News 4 Investigates: Daily Briefing

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News 4 Investigates: Salad Test

by rkinsaul

KMOV.com

Posted on April 24, 2008 at 7:58 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 3:06 PM

Remember how we tested the lemons in iced tea from local restaurants and found some really nasty stuff? A lot of people wrote and told us we should test other items from restaurants. So we did. We bought salads from 8 restaurants across the St. Louis metro area and had them tested for bacteria and fecal coliforms, the bacteria found in fecal matter. Three tested positive for fecal coliforms, which is most likely caused by employees who didn't wash their hands after going to the bathroom. And three salads were found to have bacteria counts much higher than the acceptable level set by the CDC and could potentially make someone sick. You can watch the story for more specifics.

We're not naming the restaurants with the contaminated salads and we think there's a good reason why. We didn't have the time and resources to test a fair sampling of the restaurants across the St. Louis area. And unless we test them all or at least most, it's not fair to name those with unacceptable salads. The bottom line to this story is that it's a wake up call to restaurants to make sure that employees are handling and preparing food properly and that employees are using proper personal hygiene. Some people may question why we didn't break down the salads into individual components to trace the source of the high bacteria counts. When you buy a salad you don't separate the items and only eat one, you eat the entire salad and that's how we tested them.

We thought it was important that we share the results of the tests, good or bad, with the restaurants. Most of the ones that sold the unacceptable salads were very concerned about the results of the tests and promised to review employee procedures and re-emphasis hygiene and food handling steps with their workers. One of the restaurants questioned whether our testing methods could be trusted and whether an animal that walked through the field when the fruit or vegetables were growing, may be to blame for the fecal coliform found on his restaurant's salad. We have the utmost confidence in the local lab that did our testing. And since produce is usually washed a couple of times from farm to market or restaurant, fecal coliform contamination is generally blamed on an employee who didn't wash up. Pinpointing the source of the bacteria contamination is a difficult proposition because it could be any of the veggies, bowls or utensils. Several of the restaurants expressed concern about their suppliers and one even said he might do his own tests on the chopped lettuce from his supplier to try to isolate the source of the high bacteria.

As one restaurant manager said, the results of the tests are "kind of gross." You can leave the lemons out of your iced tea, but there's not a lot that a customer can do to make sure the staff of a restaurant is preparing food properly. We hope our story informs customers and alerts restaurants so they'll double check to make sure that employees are washing their hands and preparing food properly.

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