In light of recent food contamination cases at major restaurants, students reconsider their eating habits



On Oct. 31, news was released of 37 E. coli outbreaks that linked back to the food chain giant, Chipotle. As a result of the contamination, 43 Chipotle stores in Washington and Oregon were closed, 11 of which had direct links to the bacteria outbreak, while the other 32 were closed voluntarily. Since then, more cases were reported in four other states. Weeks later, Chipotle reopened the stores after clearing all possible sources that could have caused the contamination. Although the cases were concentrated in the Northwest, ripple effects left some CHS students wary of Chipotle’s credibility.

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 1.54.25 PMOn Nov. 3, sophomore Chloe Wiser was watching TV and received news of the outbreak. At that moment, Wiser decided to reconsider her previous habit of eating at the Mexican grill whose tagline is “Food with Integrity.”

“When I saw this on the news,  I was very distressed and upset,” Wiser said. “If it happened once, it can probably happen again. I most likely won’t go to Chipotle after this outbreak.”

It is not uncommon for foodborne illnesses to be linked back to major restaurants. Back in 2013, many cases of cyclosporiasis, a severe stomach infection, sickened over 200 people and  were tied back to a salad mix served at Olive Garden and Red Lobster.

According to a 2014 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the leading national public health institute, while E. coli and Listeria outbreaks have decreased in numbers since 2000, the number of Campylobacter, Vibrio and Salmonella outbreaks has swelled.

Still, despite the recent outbreak at Chipotle, Brenda Lester, family consumer science teacher, does not think this outbreak has a large impact on CHS students’ eating habits.

“I think the media has covered so much E. coli. Maybe if it would have happened several years ago, it would have been a bigger issue. But I think it has been minimized, the media has not taken it out of proportion,” Lester said.

In fact, Lester said, “The safest time to eat at a restaurant is after they’ve had an outbreak, because there’s going to be people who watch every move that they make and the health department comes in and will inspect them.”

Junior Madison Goyke’s perspective on the E. coli outbreak confirms Lester’s theory that this event will not alter most student’s eating habits.

“It happens in all kinds of food businesses. As long as it gets under control, then I’ll be fine with eating there again,” Goyke said. “I feel like a lot of teenagers don’t really care about what they eat and where it comes from. They just eat what their parents hand them.”Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 1.54.58 PM

Generally, the number-one cause of food contamination has to do with improper food handling. While there are several courses offered at CHS that deal with proper food handling and safety, not everyone takes them. Both Wiser and Goyke said teenagers are not adequately educated on the topic of food safety and contaminations.

“Teenagers should care about the quality of their foods and what’s actually in it. Many of the food contaminations are very dangerous and can have serious consequences,” Wiser said. “I think a lot of people have a general idea of how bad it is for you, but not the specifics.”

Goyke said, “I took Orientation to Nutrition and Wellness so they covered (food safety), but if you don’t take a food class, then you don’t learn much of the topic.”

According to Lester, the most common way foodborne illnesses are spread is by the food handler. Improper hygiene by not washing hands and equipment with soap and warm water for a minimum of 20 seconds can increase the risk of food contamination. Another common cause of food illness is cross-contamination. Cross-contamination is caused by using a utensil on a contaminated food and not desanitizing it before reuse. Examples includes cutting boards, knives and spoons. Also, storing or holding food items at incorrect temperatures may raise the risk of food related illnesses.

Another study conducted by the CDC estimated that each year roughly one in six Americans, equivalent to 48 million people, get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases.

“I think teenagers should be more careful. A lot of people don’t realize that you can die from eating contaminated foods,” Lester said. “I think the rule of thumb is if you question a chain restaurant, inspect their bathroom. Because if their bathroom is dirty, chances are, the part of the building where you can’t see where they are fixing the food, is probably dirty as well.”

Jennifer McFarland, Director of Food and Nutrition services, said via-email, “Food safety is a very important topic to us and there are several steps in place to ensure the safety of our food.”Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 1.55.23 PM

According to McFarland, the Hamilton County Board of Health inspects all 17 of Carmel Clay Schools’ kitchens biannually. Also, all cafeteria managers and assistant managers are ServSafe certified and undergo food safety training monthly. To ensure proper food preparation, electronic temperature monitoring systems, Smart Temps, are used. These systems log all temperatures taken during the entire cooking, prepping, serving and storing process.

Lester said, “Things have changed in the last few years; they are now bringing in a lot of the food either prepared or partially prepared, so that eliminates a lot of the dangers of food safety.”

McFarland said, “Food safety is something we monitor and ensure every day in our operation.”

As new cases continue to be released on Chipotle’s E. coli outbreak, Lester said, “Buyer beware.”