Food for Thought: Health Inspections

ethnicfoods

The Houston Chronicle published this report of the City of Houston’s notable restaurant inspections from the week of Nov. 23-30, 2015.

It’s a slideshow with the locations and facades of the restaurants that were in violation. It also lists what the restaurants were cited for.

As I watched the slideshow, I noticed that the majority of the restaurants in violation are ethnic. This makes sense since the week of Nov. 23-30 was a holiday (Thanksgiving in the U.S.). Many restaurants who celebrate the holiday were closed for some or all of the week.

But the fact that so many of the restaurants serve ethnic cuisine left a lingering thought in the back of my head.

It’s long been suspected that certain spices can be natural preservatives. As I was growing up, I remember my Mom made Chicken Curry and other West Indian dishes and would leave them out overnight sometimes. The next day I would make a quick meal out of the leftovers and would not get sick. It was something that never even occurred to me could happen until I was older.

Almost everyone will tell you that leaving chicken or chicken dishes out overnight is a health hazard. This was hammered home during my years working in restaurants and while taking sanitation courses to get licensed as a food manager.

When I asked my Mom why she had no problems keeping chicken out overnight she would reply:

Because curry keeps the chicken from spoiling.

She must have been right because I never once got sick. No one in my family was ever sick. None of my friends who were daring enough to try Guyanese style curry ever got sick.

Why?

Well, it seems that curry and most of the ingredients that go into a traditional curry dish are natural preservatives. This would account for why my Mom’s food has never put anyone in the hospital.

With the fact that many of the spices commonly found in ethnic dishes can act as natural preservatives, should the health department reassess some of the regulations that govern food storage, times, and temperatures?

Many of these spices have been used for hundreds, even thousands of years so it should be worth taking this idea into consideration. Could the city be being too hard on these types of eateries?

Maybe societal attitudes need to change, given the more accepting food culture growing here in the city of Houston and around the country. Food trucks continue to increase in popularity, street foods are big within certain cities; both of these trends are an everyday norm in other countries where consumers are used to eating foods not as heavily regulated as here in the U.S.

A recent post to Serviceable did mention that ethnic foods and spices from the Middle East and Africa are going to be one of the biggest food trends of 2016.

What are your thoughts on this idea? Please leave comments or pass this question on to your friends. We’d love to hear your feedback.

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