During my growing pains as a technician, I couldn’t understand why New York Health Inspectors were such stiffs about wet rags on kitchen counters. Growing up, wet rags on counters was a common practice in my mom’s kitchen. When a pot was too hot we would use wet rags to hold the pot in place and emptied the “arroz con pollo” onto a serving bowl. While this practice makes sense at home, at a restaurant it poses a food cross contamination and pest breeding threat. At any given restaurant there are numerous plates being cooked, vegetarian and non, making a wet rag bacteria friendly. The food that accumulates on a wet rag also breaks downs, making it an ideal breeding ground for flies.
This health violation became clear to me while shadowing a co-worker to a famous eating location on 23rd. The place was massive and yet we needed to address a fly problem that popped up out of nowhere. As a rookie, I did not know where to start? My co-worker is the most complete and thorough technician I ever worked with, so we begin to hit every single food station at the spot. We had about four hours to complete the service and solve our fly problem.
Two hours into the service, we arrived at the epicenter but did not know that yet. The food station served sandwiches among other delicious food. The question burning in my head was, how can a place so clean have a fly issue? In the middle of our thorough inspection, I found a white rag under a work station that stood next to a sink. Lucky for me I wore my usual inspection gear, nitrile gloves. When I flipped the rag, I encountered a scene from CSI. There were white maggots inching all over the rag. The top part was dry but the bottom was damp and along our crawling friends, were decomposed food. Feeding the fly problem was the spilled water from the sink, keeping the rag wet through-out the day and night.
I wanted to the drop the rag and run out of fear, but did not want to look like a punk in-front of anybody. After shivering out of disgust and making sure none inched onto my arm, I held the infested rag as far as possible and called my co-worker over.
From that moment on, I learned the reason why Health Inspectors don’t take wet rags on counters lightly. No matter how well managers and restaurant owners treat them during inspections, they can kiss their letter “A” goodbye if their crew practice that behavior. This experience transformed me into a caring technician, helping each restaurant acquired their letter “A” by advising them of any possible health violation, specially wet rags on counters.