Even the Best Chefs Aren't Always Hygienic, Study Suggests
A new survey found that chefs in the U.K. are taking some surprising risks with your food.
When you pay a pretty penny for your pork tenderloin, you expect it to be more than a succulent morsel of meat: you expect it has come from a safe food environment, prepared with the same care—or better—than you'd take in your own kitchen. Yet a startling new survey shows that many a U.K. chef doesn't wash his or her hands after handling a slab of raw meat or fillet of fish. (To which we say, yikes!)
University of Liverpool researchers surveyed more than 200 U.K. chefs, asking them a series of questions to determine the bad behaviors that most commonly happen in their kitchens. And what they found might make you pause before heading to a pub.A whopping one-third of chefs admitted they'd served meat "on the turn," meaning meat that is visibly losing its fresh red coloring and turning a grey or brown—the kind of meat you'd never put in your cart at the grocery store.
What's more, 16 percent of the chefs surveyed have served barbecued chicken they weren't 100 percent sure was fully cooked—in other words, the chicken could have still contained some sickness-causing salmonella. Seven percent said they don't wash their hands after handing raw meat or fish, which can also contain salmonella. And one third of chefs copped to returning to work just 48 hours after having, err, diarrhea.
Beyond the obvious issues, serving undercooked barbecued chicken has been noted to cause a diarrheal disease known as campylobacter, while a chef suffering from diarrhea—and then handling your food—can lead to food poisoning outbreaks.
Now, you may be thinking that chefs at the best establishments—you know, the kind you paid the aforementioned pretty penny to eat at—would never engage in such risky behaviors. But you would be wrong. In fact, the researchers found that chefs working in award-winning kitchens were more likely to admit they'd returned to work after being sick to their stomachs. And chefs who don't regularly wash their hands are more likely to work in upmarket restaurants.
"Foodborne illnesses impose a huge burden to the U.K. population, and these results indicate a high prevalence of behaviors, which can give people food poisoning," said Dan Rigby, one of the survey's lead researchers. But he offered a reason why chefs might commit these kitchen sins anyway. "Masking the smell and taste of meat is an old industry trick, and [doing it] means restaurants can cut costs," Rigby explained.
Even more disturbing? "[Proving] you can do it shows a potential employer you are experienced in the industry," Rigby said. As for those fine dining chefs, their bad behavior may come from "fear of losing a prestigious job, or a desire not to let the team down," Rigby offered. And yet, that's probably little comfort to U.K. residents and diners hoping their next dining out experience doesn't leave them calling in sick the next morning.