Beyond that swinging door

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By Carol A. Clark

Food poisoning is agonizing. There's almost nothing worse - except paying a restaurant good money to get it. A resident says two family members suffered recent bouts of food poisoning after eating at a local restaurant on separate days.

Dirty kitchens, irresponsible food handling and contaminated food are risks people take when eating out, and, "Who knows what's going on behind that swinging door," said another resident sickened here by something he ate during lunch out with friends.

Victims don't have to take food poisoning lying down. The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) normally inspects restaurants once a year, but will respond sooner when illness and unsanitary conditions are reported by employees or members of the public.

Victims are urged to report health and safety complaints as soon as possible through the NMED website, which provides an online form. NMED says it is committed to investigating citizen reports in an efficient and timely manner.

Restaurant operations can be shut down when conditions threaten the public's well-being. Findings that lead to the suspension of operating permits include the discovery of high-risk violations like mouse droppings and flies in kitchens, thawing raw meat outside safe temperature ranges, lack of sanitizer in dishwashers and on wiping cloths, and personnel not sanitizing equipment and utensils.

Also, a lack of soap at hand sinks, paper towels without dispensers, and dirty freezer bottoms. Inspectors will cite restaurants for moderate-risk violations such as having refrigerators or freezers not rated for commercial use, refrigerators missing thermometers, and a failure to stock and use chlorine test strips. Low-risk violations include boxes placed on floors in dry storage.

It goes without saying that the inspection outcome every restaurant should strive for and receive is "No violations - Extremely clean - Very well managed."

NMED inspects restaurants to ensure staff is handling food safely and following state food service and food processing regulations intended to protect the health of diners.

The Monitor will record those inspections, listing local restaurants that score well, along with any flagged for violations. Violations will be detailed, as will notices that compliance has been met.

For information, food alerts and complaints, call 827-1840 or access www.nmenv.state.nm.us.