Hold the E-Coli, Please

Hundreds of restaurants across America are plagued with critical food safety hazards, including contaminated food preparation surfaces, improper food storage temperatures and excessive rodent and insect activity, according to a report released today. A nationwide study of health inspection reports by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a leading public health group, found that over 66 percent of restaurant kitchens examined had at least one "high-risk food safety violation."

The CSPI study examined at a total of 539 restaurant inspection reports from 30 cities across the country. The restaurants examined ranged from expensive steakhouses to fast food joints. The reports listed an unappetizing smorgasbord of unsanitary findings, including mouse droppings in a Minneapolis ice machine and a roach running across a cutting board in Pittsburgh. Click here to read the CSPI "Dirty Dining" study.

Among the findings of the CSPI study:

- Over a quarter of restaurants received citations for contaminated food contact surfaces - 22 percent of restaurants were cited for improper food storage temperatures - 13 percent of restaurants were hit with violations for the presence of rodents and/or insects

Restaurants in Austin, TX and Boston, MA had the highest number of critical violations, according to the report. Tucson, AZ and San Francisco, CA had the fewest violations. However, the report notes that cities have varying inspection standards and that "it is difficult - if not impossible" to determine whether greater numbers of violations were simply a sign of more zealous food safety inspectors.

Over 40 percent of all cases of food borne illnesses are contracted from eating at restaurants, according to CSPI. Recent food borne illness outbreaks have included a 2006 case of over 400 people getting sick after eating contaminated food at an Italian restaurant in Michigan.

CSPI is pushing governments to require restaurants to post simple food safety "letter grades" in their windows. "A letter grade in the window has proven to be one of the most powerful incentives for restaurants to perform well on inspections," said CSPI attorney Sarah A. Klein. "Who wants to eat a 'C' restaurant' if a restaurant next door gets an 'A'?"

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