Monday, July 2, 2007

Ratatouille: Bird gets Rat.

In the latest Disney/Pixar Movie, a rat wants to be the best chef in Paris. The results are hilarious and wonderful. While I’m sure there are plenty of other movie reviews, I wanted to give a few impressions of the movie from the EH view.

I’ve worked a lot of four and five star kitchens in my time and Brad Bird got the feel of a French Kitchen down. Classical kitchens are not usually set up like their American chain or fast-food counterparts, with a line of cold tables dividing the servers from the cooks. Those European kitchens don’t have cold holding. Of course one of the bad habits of such kitchens becomes apparent quickly. Our hero rat Remy in his first cooking attempt in the restaurant finds a carton of cream stored on a shelf above a stove.

As for the kitchen staff, I think I’ve met every one of the people in that kitchen. They are classic people found in probably most kitchens of that caliber, and in many chain stores as well. The subplot of the executive chef more interested in selling frozen food than Haute cuisine strikes true in many kitchens today as well.

Of course there’s the rats. Brad Bird had done an incredible job of switching between real and reel rat behavior. One scene give us a rat’s view of accessing a building as Remy climbs from a sewer to a roof. Another has a Remy scurrying under kitchen equipment. Bird was quoted in several places as insisting since he took over the project that the rats needed to be rats in order to contrast the non-rat behavior.

Yet my biggest impression from the sanitarian view was a theme running through the whole movie. Handwashing and hygiene is important to Remy, how much so leads to an early scene explaining non-rat behavior, and one later which is one of the most hysterical scenes in the movie. What was interesting however was the humans rarely washed their hands, and no one used soap.

Given Brad Bird did a better Fantastic Four movie in terms of atmosphere and story telling in the Incredibles than either Fantastic Four movie, I expected good results. But the detail and storytelling exceeded my expectations. I’d give tails up to this one.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Rubber Duckies and iPhones: Part I

For those who saw my Beyond Enforcement presentation, you probably remember rubber duckie. I carried rubber duckie around on my name badge through most of the NEHA conference. I was making a point with rubber duckie. Since I was going to be recorded, I wanted to avoid making the point with a certain laughing furry red monster.

On my way to my morning coffee fix this morning I was greeted by a line outside the Apple store located across the street. Not only a line of camped out twentysomethings, but news people filming the whole thing.

It’s iPhone day. Rubber duckie the sequel.

Apple has done what those toy companies have done. Granted, since the first iPod, Apple can do no wrong. They design incredible products. My iPod Nano goes with me everywhere. So it should be no surprise that people are excited about the product. Some of those people were there since midnight. Why should people be so excited about the product to camp out for this thing?

The answer is scarcity. In the rubber duckie analogy, there is a phenomenon noted by Robert Cialdini in his book Influence. Toy manufacturers intentionally under-produce certain toys in order to drive up their perceived value. If I only distribute 5 rubber duckies to each store then only 5 people per store will get a rubber duckie. The first five people in the store get the goods, everyone else misses out. But the store often does not tell how many they have in stock, so people get there very early hoping to be one of the few who gets the goods. Such events become news worthy in their own right, and with the panic mentality of most news organizations people believe there really is only a few rubber duckies around. Demand skyrockets in response.

Watching it in action this morning was funny. There is no scarcity of iPhones. Apple could not make money if they only made a thousand distributed nationwide. They need to make hundreds of thousands to turn a profit. What really is driving the scarcity is all in the heads of the people on that line. It’s the status of being the first to have an iPhone.

And here’s the point – Granting status costs little to nothing. I’ve seen it in action. I’ve even exploited it.

The real meaning of inspection scores is one thing. But that numerical value when compared to other numerical values is another. Everyone wants to be better than their competition or rival. As someone who works within companies, I notice that lovely question which is always on the Chef’s lips: “what did the other store get?” It is nice to be better.

In the next part, I’ll describe some simple, inexpensive (or even free) ideas to do exactly that.

You LED up my life.

I love my mini MAGlite. Like most of us it is one of my favorite inspection tools. Like many of us I have the 2-AA cell pocket size version. I know, many people think I should have a more powerful beam of the bigger bulkier models. But I need to be very protable, and those big ones have problems with that. I had one problem with my mini-mag though. I keep dropping it, and breaking light bulbs. It was getting expensive either replacing flashlights or replacing Bulbs.

So when I started seeing advertisements for LED flashlights I thought I would look into it. In terms of brightness and light source, I was impressed to say the least. LED’s are a fuller spectrum than the incandescent bulb. Impressed is an understatement. A better word would be addicted. Full spectrum allows for a finding things you never thought you ever find with that sickly yellow beam.

Then I saw the price. Sticker shock ensued. Expect to pay $30-$60 for a good flashlight. One day before an out-of-town inspection, I found I had forgotten my flashlight. And so I bit the bullet and bought a plasticInova $30 LED flashlight (I couldn't afford for the more durable models). While it worked incredibly well, the plastic it was made of is not meant for inspection use. I cracked the plastic in a month.It wasn't as durable as my beloved MAGlite, even with bulb problems. Apparently Inove agrees: they stopped selling that model.

Maglite does make a few LED flashlights. Last night while shopping in Target I saw the 2-AAcell mini MAGlite LED for $25. The 3-cell version which I’ve seen in hardware stores is about $30. But I actually like another option.

A company called sells conversion kits for the standard mini maglite, available at Target and many sporting and hardware stores. The kit includes a 3-LED bulb assembly and reflector replacement, and a new end cap with a push switch. Converting is as easy as changing a bulb. The kit is my kind of price as well: about $10.

I did that about year ago, and my flashlight has been my best buddy since.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Ten Things I Learned at NEHA AEC 2007

I just got back from NEHA AEC 2007, and I learned several things:
  1. Strict liability is a slam dunk
  2. Don't dig your for your own oysters on Sanibel Island.
  3. For some mysterious reason, Casinos don't like coffee.
  4. Sanitarians are very passionate about their jobs.
  5. Never give a toy salmonella to a Sanitarian -- particularly in a restaurant.
  6. Most Sanitarians don't want to get up before the sun does. If they do - they're probably in food protection.
  7. If the Words "Marler-Clark" and "will you be an expert witness?" are in the same conversation- Run!
  8. I knew EH was the Rodney Dangerfields of Food service, but we're the Orphans of Public Health too!
  9. If we got as much money as blame, we'd all have water activity meters in our pockets!
  10. Most of us are a shoestring budgets, but want to do a lot more.
#10 on that list has intrigued me for the last several days. So I'm going to do something about it.

No I'm not going to give every EH department a million dollar grant.

I'm on a budget just like everyone else. But sharing wisdom on how to do the job of environmental health in the most cost effective way is even more important for a consultant like me than all you regulators out there.

Hence this blog. Let's share.

Every once in a while I'll share some of my experience from sixteen years running around just about anything that serves food, and some of the tricks and ideas I use to get the job done.

I hope you join me.