Food safety and food quality are different: Fancy food doesn’t mean safe food

Joel Rubin of the Los Angeles Times describes in gut-wrenching glory his recent adventures with Salmonella, and how his initial suspicions of sushi proved wrong: instead it was the Hollandaise sauce at BLD, a trendy L.A. eatery.

Rubin describes how in Los Angeles County,

a small army of inspectors, doctors, specialized nurses and epidemiologists in the Department of Public Health watch over our 38,000 restaurants, markets and bakeries, hoping to catch problems with cleanliness and food handling before a meal gets contaminated.

When two or more people get sick from the same food — an outbreak — these are the experts who try to figure out where and when and how things went sideways. It happens 40 or so times a year in the county, sometimes at restaurants you would never expect.

Rubin provides excellent detail of the epidemiological process that eventually found over 20 sick customers linked to BLD. In the end, at least 40 people are suspected to have been sickened from the Hollandaise sauce at BLD that Sunday, making it one of the largest outbreaks of food-borne illness in Los Angeles this year.

Owner Neal Fraser, "who has a reputation for using only fresh, natural ingredients, made a traditional sauce," meaning raw eggs.

Rubin then goes back to the source  — Chino Valley Ranchers — one of the country’s largest producers of organic eggs. It owns more than a million birds, all roaming around in cage-free houses. In the days before I got sick, 45 dozen of their medium-size, AA-grade eggs, laid by hens raised on organic feed, had been delivered to BLD.

When Rubin visited, he found an impressive-looking operation where chicks are vaccinated, hens screened for infection and eggs put through a mind-bogglingly thorough washing and quality-control process.

Salmonella happens. At fancy restaurants, at local dives, and everywhere in between. Take steps to reduce the risk, in this case using pasteurized eggs.