October 22, 2020 – Meat doesn’t mix with cleaning solution.

I have a confession to make. I am one of ‘those’ people. A bit vague? Sorry about that. Let me clarify (I’ll use an example that many people are familiar with). Back in the 80s, there was a very popular film called “When Harry Met Sally”. It starred Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. Meg Ryan played a bit of a quirky character that liked her food ‘just so’. Well, that’s me. I’m one of ‘those’ people. Oftentimes, when I go to a restaurant and I’m asked what I’d like to drink, I usually request two glasses of water. Give me a minute, I have a very valid explanation. I order two because inevitably, once the waiter or waitress brings me my entrée, I may not see them for another 30-40 minutes. In that period of time, one glass of water just isn’t going to cut it, especially when you enjoy super salty food. Sometimes, you get a great waiter or waitress that continually fills your glass but you just don’t know, so I’d just rather be prepared in case I get one of them that only shows up to take your order, bring your entrée and then hand over the bill at the end of the meal.

In addition to my 2-glass request, I also have a few other things that some might find a bit demanding or irrational. When I order a salad, I always ask for no tomatoes or croutons and I’d like my dressing on the side. Why so picky? Well, when I do get a salad, I’d prefer that it doesn’t arrive with the lettuce doing a backstroke because it’s swimming in Ranch dressing. And no matter what I order, if it comes with raw tomatoes, do you mind leaving those out? Tomatoes and I have a very love/hate relationship. They love to appear in my food or on my plate when I’m least expecting it and I really hate when that happens! So, yes, I can be a bit particular but I don’t think it’s totally irrational. On the plus side? I do tip well.

So, in case you were wondering, I can be a bit ‘picky’ about food. But I have good reason now more than ever. Because I had a kidney transplant last year, all kinds of fun restrictions have been placed on what and where I can eat. Bye-bye, sushi! Adios, salad bar. Until we meet again, all-you-can-eat-buffet. No, we won’t be meeting again. I’ve been sworn off you by my doctor. Dang it! I love you, all-you-can-eat-buffet, but this is for the best. And this is just the beginning of all of the interesting food restrictions. Fortunately, I can still have deli meat but even it requires special treatment.

There is nothing I love more (aside from a plate of fried chicken, baked beans and corn on the cob) than a nice, hot, melty, deli sandwich. It is for this reason that I visit the deli at least twice a week. And when I refer to ‘deli’, I mean the ‘deli counter’ at my local (chain) grocery store, which also sells DELICIOUS fried chicken! But, hey, I wouldn’t recommend the Chinese unless you can get it right after it comes out of the fryer. If it sits too long under the heat lamps, it starts looking a bit questionable and rather unappetizing. And you can be assured that if you do purchase some, you will have a stomachache afterward. Went off on a tangent, my apologies! Anyway, because of my health, I’ve become a bit more involved in how you ‘treat’ my meat. By that, I am referring to how clean the equipment is and if you are wearing a fresh pair of gloves, among other things.

Last week I ordered 3/4 lbs. each of 2 types of meat, chicken and ham, but I went to a different store than I ordinarily do (same chain, different location). There was only one guy working behind the counter and he was busy making a bunch of sandwiches. I waited for a bit and then I started to get impatient so I finally went up to him and asked if anyone else was working the counter. He called out to some folks in the back and a short, older gentleman eventually appeared. I informed him that I’d like to purchase some deli meat. I then pointed out my two selections and told him I’d like 3/4 lbs. each. It didn’t take long to realize that he didn’t know what the hell he was doing. When he did finally locate the ham, after removing the plastic, he just placed it directly onto the meat cutter and started shaving it.

This is where I start getting a little concerned. First of all, he didn’t bother to change his gloves. Secondly, he didn’t put any paper onto the meat cutter for the sliced meat to land on. Thirdly, he didn’t sanitize any of the equipment or remove any of the old meat shavings that were resting on the surface. And, fourthly, he didn’t even bother to ask how thick I’d like each slice. Woah! Hang on there!! I’m getting really anxious now. Oh, you’ve never worked this part of the deli counter before? You’re just the fry guy? Fantastic!! How about I check with the Sandwich Guy and see if he can help me with the rest of my order? At that point, I proceed to go down to the other end of the counter and reach out to Mr. Sandwich. Let me first say, he’s a lovely, accommodating person. I told him my dilemma, that I’d had a transplant and had to be exceptionally careful because I was immune-compromised. He understood. Fortunately, he’d just completed the sandwich order so he was able to accompany me back down to where all the assorted meats were located to help me with my request. Immediately, he got out the cleaning solution and started spraying down each piece of the meat cutter with a great amount of gusto, reassuring me that I needn’t worry, he’ll guarantee that the equipment is clean. Herein lies the problem.

I can tell you now, that equipment was C-L-E-A-N!! There wasn’t one scintilla of bacteria that wasn’t snuffed out! Yay! However, there’s always a hitch. It wouldn’t be ‘life’ if there wasn’t a hitch. As I mentioned earlier, I notice certain things (especially when it comes to cleanliness and food safety) because I’m trying not to die. Not just yet, anyway, but check back with me next year. In this case, I noticed that despite the fact that he had so obligingly wiped everything down, he never changed his gloves (not once) or put paper down on the freshly spritzed surface of the meat cutter. Crap! This isn’t going to end well! I didn’t say anything at the time because he had been so kind, but after observing that some of the protocols had been overlooked, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to stomach it once I actually used it in a sandwich. But I still bought it and took it home and placed it in the refrigerator, hoping for the best.

I think you know the outcome (if you read the title/heading of today’s blog) but I’ll fill you in (just in case). I started out with a nice piece of toasted bread, layered a few slices of ham on top, along with a fresh slice of Havarti, and popped it into my toaster oven. After it was nice and hot and melty, I placed it on my plate along with some potato chips and carried it over to the dining room table, where I took a seat. One bite. Literally, one bite is all it took. There was no mistaking it. My sandwich had the essence of eau de Lysol. Yuck! Maybe I’m just imagining things? Better try another bite. Double yuck! No, I’m not imagining things!! Ok, lunch is over. I’m done. Makes me nauseous just thinking about it. At least, I was able to return it to the store and get my money back even though the gal at customer service looked at me like I was an alien when I tried to explain what had happened.

What did I take from this experience? Maybe it’d be a good idea to suggest to the store manager that the folks at the deli counter (without naming names) could use some training on food handling, for a start? And maybe I should seriously reconsider buying sandwich meat at the deli counter altogether? Makes sense, but you can only eat so many tuna or pb&j sandwiches, so not sure that’s going to work. Another thought? In order to avoid the whole cleaning-solution-flavored-meat debacle, maybe avoid the sandwich meat at the deli counter altogether and stick with the prepackaged stuff? Yes! Makes total sense. I pick ‘Door Number Three’!! Am I still going to continue to purchase the super-delicious fried chicken from the deli? You better believe it! How can I be sure it’s safe and Lysol-free? The power of observation, my friends. As many times as I’ve seen them pull the chicken from the fryer and place it under the warming lamps, I’ve never seen a single piece touched by one gloved hand. They use tongs exclusively. Unless and until that changes, you’d better believe I’m sticking with my chicken!

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