Jack Simpson: Eating out can be a risky business



I have come to the conclusion that senior citizens eat out a good bit. Perhaps because it is easier than preparing meals for two people. My wife and I choose a buffet often because we like the variety, and the chance to eyeball the food before making choices.

Yes, it is a risky choice. It is easy to overeat and there is always a chance the food has been improperly handled and prepared. There could be a safety risk. However, this is true of regular menu fare as well.

Everyone probably has a story. My tale of woe involved an incident at a favorite buffet. After eating and departing, I had an allergic reaction to something I had eaten there. I knew some of the food had been imported from abroad. Was it the shrimp, crab, pineapple, Mandarin oranges? I had no idea -- but something made my lip swell and my throat as well. I felt the need to seek immediate medical assistance and I did.

After a shot and a prescription, I followed the physician's instructions and quickly recovered.

I was sure I was not alone in my reaction to certain foods. I had read of Chinese berries causing diarrhea and of arsenic being found in calamari. I had even read of maggots being found in pasta. There have been many stories about people getting sick from tainted foods, imported and domestic, over the years. However, we cannot wrap ourselves in cotton. We do have to dine out and sometimes it is risky.

Today we expect the food in some of our restaurants have come from fertilized fields where pesticides have been applied and animals have been fed antibodies and hormones. Consumers must have faith that what they eat has been sent to kitchens fresh and, once there, properly prepared and handled. Contaminated food is a constant worry.

All we can do when we dine out is rely on the honesty and integrity of food producers, exporters, preparers and restaurant owners and staff. We also rely on inspectors and on legislators who enact laws relating to food safety. We hope when we go out to eat others are as interested in ensuring our safety as we are. Contaminated food is dangerous and consumers must be protected.

After my experience, I pray that future visits to buffets, wherever they are located, will find clean kitchens and staff and utensils, and that the food has been properly stored, prepared and inspected. It pays to read those posted health reports before eating at any restaurant. Personally, I am avoiding establishments with unsatisfactory ratings.

Please remember that when we choose to eat out, our lives are not in the hands of the gods. No, our lives are in the hands of the cooks!

Jack Simpson is a former educator, veteran, author and a law enforcement officer. His column appears each Friday.