Florida Restaurants Rank 1st In U.S. For Sickening Diners

McNelly Torres, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, August 25, 2007

More people get sick after eating in Florida restaurants than in any other state, according to a new report issued by a Web site that monitors data on government health inspections.

Healthinspections.com said the leading causes of food poisoning were seafood, ethnic food and all-you-can eat buffets.

Florida, with 29,729 restaurants, had 77 separate outbreaks of food-borne illness affecting 300 people during 2005, the most recent year for which statistics are available.

California, with 58,426 restaurants, ranked second with 62 outbreaks, and Ohio was third with 38, followed by Michigan with 35 and New York with 31.

The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association did not respond to an e-mail request for comment.

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Rich Carlish of Hollywood said the industry nationwide has problems. When he eats out locally, Carlish said, he often sees workers at fast-food restaurants failing to wash their hands, one of the main causes of food-borne diseases.

“Regulators should take this seriously, but they won’t,” said Carlish, author of Restaurants: It’s a Dirty Business, who spent 20 years managing restaurants in North Carolina and New Jersey. “You got a lot of unqualified people managing restaurants.”

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Washing hands a must

Chirag H. Bhatt, Healthinspections.com’s food-safety director, said managers need to focus more on food safety.

“People don’t think hard enough about how a simple task such as washing hands can make a difference,” said Bhatt, a registered sanitarian and a former chief of Houston’s Health Department. “Its all about attitude.”

Nationwide, fish and seafood, including oysters and shrimp, were tied with ethnic buffets, serving items such as spring rolls and tacos, as the most common cause of food-borne illness, followed by lettuce-based salads.

“I think it is terrible,” said Marilyn Shiffer, a retired businesswoman living in Fort Lauderdale. “I got sick two months ago after eating seafood at a restaurant. I called them to complain, and they offered me a free meal.”

South Florida’s restaurants may have even more problems than those in other parts of the state.

Hammond of the state’s Health Department said the area’s dense population, large tourist industry and increasing number of restaurants could all be a cause for South Florida’s increase in cases.

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