The Ick Factor When You Eat Out See Something? Say Something


Posted September 5, 2013 by Laura Trivers on


My family had a wonderful vacation this month in Acadia National Park.  We hiked along trails that abutted the ocean, biked the carriage roads, and took an awe-inspiring whale-watching trip.


One afternoon, we stopped at the iconic Jordan Pond House, famous for popovers and lemonade.  They serve the lemonade with the simple syrup on the side, so you can make it as sweet or as tart as you like.   We had such a lovely time that we made reservations for dinner later in the week.


We should have stopped at lunch.


At dinner, my jaw dropped when our waiter carried our lemonades on a tray stacked with other people’s dirty dishes.


“I don’t know if that’s a Maine department of health violation,” I told the manager.  “But, the ick factor is high.”  The manager said she would ask the server to use clean trays for our table.  Cleanliness is now a special request, even in a National Park restaurant?  Shouldn’t that be the least of our expectations when we eat out?

Yet, the next time the server came by our table, he cleared our dirty dishes onto the same tray that held our waiting-to-be-served popovers and jam.


Curious, I spoke with the Maine department of health.  The restaurant code cannot possibly forbid each and every ick-factor possibility, but there is a general good business practices code that my experience falls under.  The department of health recorded my comments as a health code violation and will talk to the restaurant.


Barbara Kowalcyk, CEO of the Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention, talks often about the need for a strong food safety culture that “starts at the top of the organization and fosters bottom-up food safety management.”


Whether in a restaurant, a grocery store or a meat processing plant, workers are supposed to understand their role in food safety and preventing foodborne illness.  Hopefully, the Jordan Pond House will quickly train their wait staff in best food safety practices and make clear their important role in preventing illness.  The wait staff, just like the kitchen staff, has a responsibility to our health.


We have been taught that in airports if you see something – say something.  The same holds true in restaurants and grocery stores.  Even in a restaurant, even on vacation, we, as consumers, have to look out for our family’s health.  While what you can’t see can also make you sick, at least you can correct what you can see.


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A mother of two always-hungry boys, Laura Trivers is the communications director for the Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention.