The best restaurant in the world, Denmark’s Noma, continues to struggle with some food safety basics.
In response to the sickening of at least 67 people who dined at the restaurant and the release of a report by Danish food types Fødevarestyrelsen, Noma came out with its own statement, offering to reimburse diners for the meal they upchucked and blaming the outbreak on a worker sick with norovirus, who magically didn’t have any symptoms.
And they’re really, really sorry.
Inspectors from the Danish food ministry criticized the restaurant for not alerting authorities quickly enough and for failing to take adequate action after the worker fell ill.
Noma blamed a delay in disinfecting the restaurant’s kitchen on internal communication problems.
Even when members of two separate dining parties complained by email, and one employee reported being ill after handling food, no measures were taken the next day.
Three immediate and obvious problems with the response from Noma.
“We received the first e-mail Thursday Feb 14. We have staff and guests from all over the world and unfortunately there was a slight delay as the email was picked up initially by a non-Danish speaking member of the team and wasn’t responded to until Monday after the weekend service.”
For a virus with an incubation of a few hours, a delay in notification by some 90 hours is inexcusable.
Noma charges about $275 for a meal – drinks extra – and they can’t find someone to check e-mail every waking minute? That’s what the best food service folks require, and me, and I’m just a professor who couldn’t begin to afford the food porn at Noma (nor would I want to).
“Noma is required to have at least one sink for washing hands in the kitchen. Noma has kitchens on two floors. On both floors noma has two sinks for washing hands. On the day it was tested, Wednesday Feb 20, three sinks worked to full satisfaction with very hot water, and the last one in the prep-kitchen was only lukewarm when tested. Noma’s reaction was to call a plumber immediately to fix the problem, and it was.”
Water temperature is irrelevant for the microbiological goals of handwashing. My guess is, handwashing has been lax.
“Noma has always had a strict policy for members of staff showing signs of sickness, and that is to send them home immediately and ask them to stay home for 48 hours even after they feel well.”
Heston-what’s-his-name who sickened 535 diners with norovirus in his fancy-pants restaurant tried the same we-have-a-manual argument. So did the folks at the Haaarvvaarrrrd Club. Is there any evidence that anyone follows the manual? Can Noma provide evidence that sick employees have stayed away from work? Or is it just a soundbite?
There have been hundreds of norovirus outbreaks involving sick workers and food over the past 20 years. Maple Leaf was really, really sorry after it killed 23 people with Listeria in its deli-meats in 2008 in Canada. In so many of these cases, people forget to pay attention to the basics, but then want some sort of acknowledgement because they said sorry.
Not good enough.
And despite basic failings, Noma continued to receive adulations from Frank Bruni of the New York Times today, who wrote a long-winded and thesaurus-aided column about food fraud.
“At the restaurant Noma in Copenhagen, the trailblazing and lavishly celebrated chef René Redzepi has been known to serve live ants. When I ate there nearly three years ago, he served me live shrimp. I managed to get down only one of them, and only after persuading myself that doing so was an act of honesty and proper responsibility: instead of having someone else kill my dinner out of view.”
These people have no concept of microbiology. Maybe Frank got lucky and the server didn’t have noro.