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Botulism: what is the risk of contamination when you go to a restaurant?

This is a tragedy that should never have happened.

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Botulism: what is the risk of contamination when you go to a restaurant?

This is a tragedy that should never have happened. A 32-year-old woman died in the Paris region after consuming sardines in a wine bar serving tapas, the Tchin Tchin Wine Bar, in Bordeaux. In total, 12 cases of contamination have been recorded, some of which concern foreigners who have already returned to their country. Everyone has in common that they have tasted these homemade canned fish which had “a manufacturing defect”. No less than nine contaminated jars were thus served, each containing “3 to 4 sardines” according to Thierry Touzet, the deputy director of the departmental directorate for population protection (DDPP). The rest of the merchandise was seized.

According to the first elements resulting from the checks carried out by the DDPP, the restaurateur had noticed a “bad smell” and “absence of vacuum” when opening the jars, but had still decided to serve them to his customers . “This is what was said by the restaurateur, who should in fact never have served these jars,” confirms Thierry Touzet, before announcing this Wednesday that “administrative measures” have been taken against this last. In particular, he is ordered to carry out thorough cleaning and disinfection, then verified by the DDPP, and is prohibited from manufacturing canned goods.

“When you have the slightest doubt, you throw it away,” reacts strongly Matthieu, a restaurateur in Paris. He also serves “homemade”, but explains that this requires him to respect an almost military discipline to ensure that his products are always perfectly fresh. “We have an application that allows us to track refrigerator temperatures, product receipt dates as well as expiration dates,” he explains, emphasizing that “the restaurateur can refer to it in the event of a problem.” ". However, he is very clear: the Bordeaux restaurateur “should have thrown everything away” especially since he had doubts about the quality of “products of animal origin”. “If one was contaminated, it necessarily contaminated the others,” assures the professional.

Frank Delvau, president of the Union of Hotel Trades and Industries (Umih) Île-de-France, does not even “understand how this could have happened”. “For restaurateurs, hygiene is something of paramount importance,” he says, knowing that the risk is necessarily present. “Health safety is the zero degree of customer health,” underlines, for his part, Franck Trouet, general delegate of the Groupement des Hôtelleries et Restaurations de France (GHR). The two professionals highlight mandatory training for catering professionals, which normally makes it possible to avoid these risks of food poisoning: HACCP.

An English name meaning Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point, this method makes it possible to prevent and identify dangers likely to arise in food hygiene practices. This mandatory training concerns every professional in the food sector: traditional catering, cafeteria, fast food, bar offering catering or even self-service… “Homemade food is affected by the same rules as industrial food, but “homemade” “involves more risks because they are raw and raw products,” recognizes Franck Trouet.

Also read: What expired foods can we eat?

“On a daily basis, this HACCP method represents several hours of checks,” explains Laurent Fréchet, president of the national branch of GHR restaurateurs. Cooks are therefore required to check the top and bottom of their work surfaces every morning, “to see if they have not been contaminated by mouse feces”, for example. Fridge temperatures are also subject to “permanent checks”, notes the specialist. Another example, in fridges, professionals “are not allowed to store products in wooden crates and must favor plastic to avoid any infection”, adds Franck Trouet.

Some restaurateurs go even further and do not hesitate to call on private laboratories, like Silliker. “Additional samples are taken incidentally, once or twice a month, on the work surfaces and on the preparations themselves,” explains Laurent Fréchet. The objective is to ensure that storage conditions are healthy and that hygiene is respected. Note that in France, each year, only 15 to 20 cases of botulism are detected, as recalled by Benjamin Clouzeau, head of the intensive care unit at Bordeaux University Hospital, who emphasizes that it is a disease “historically known but extremely rare.

A "non-communicable" disease that develops only after "ingestion", and cannot normally occur in a healthy environment. And all the more so when we know that checks are carried out regularly, as Thierry Touzet points out. The deputy director of the DDPP concedes, however, that it is not possible to “control all establishments every year”. This is “a point that we are looking at”, he says, determined to “increase the number of checks carried out” and “in the coming weeks”. But be careful not to invent yourself as a cook when you are not one, according to him, “the manufacture of preserves is a technical process that must be mastered”.

Franck Chaumet, the president of the Union of Hospitality Trades and Industries (Umih) Gironde, notes in fact “a failure by the restaurateur”, even casting doubt on whether he is really “a restaurateur”. According to him, “this shows the limits of the catering exercise today”, and the importance of compulsory training. “In my entire career, I have never heard of botulism (...) it’s an isolated case,” defends the man who fears that the entire profession will suffer from this “exceptional” tragedy. “What we want is for customers to come to our establishments with complete confidence,” assures Franck Trouet.

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