As our families are getting smaller more of us find it less expensive and more convenient to eat out, therefore, many are doing so. As Americans we seem to have adopted the saying of old “eat, drink and be merry” as our philosophy of life. I suggest that we become more mindful of our surroundings as we eat out.

Recently in the news many reports have been made about workers with hepatitis and other diseases and this should give us pause to be aware of what is going on around us. One simple step that I take when eating in a place where the food is served on a tray is to keep the tray and eat my food from the tray. Some regard that as being ill mannered or inappropriate. I consider it as protecting myself from what was on the cloth that was on the table after cleaning the seat.

When we were working in the school system our lunch period was 30 minutes and that involved us getting our students to the dining area with no incidents on the way. Our food was placed on a tray. Out of the rush most of us ate from the tray and returned it to the window after rushing to eat. From that experience, I concluded that the trays were just as clean as the table or plates, if not cleaner. Now when my food is served on a tray that is where I let it stay as I eat because of health reasons.

For some years now I have noticed that most workers who clean the tables are using one cleaning cloth to clean the tables as well as the chairs. When I first noticed that, I thought that it was just that particular eating establishment. So I continued to take notice. I brought it to the attention of my husband last year and explained to him that that is my reason for keeping my tray and eating from it instead of putting my food on the table. He would always just put everything on the table and even if his food fell on the table, he was OK with that. I told him that bacteria, viruses and parasites were awaiting his food. He now eats from the tray.

I promise you that I have yet to see them use a different cloth for the table from that one used on the chairs.

I always tell my children that there are many things that I say and see and hope to be wrong. I do not always want to be right about things.

If anyone reading this has something to do with operating a restaurant, please do what you can to help with that health hazard.

We have enough sickness going around under normal conditions.

I had a good friend who, after leaving a public place, picked up some bacteria and took sick that Wednesday and began to feel deathly ill at the end of that day. She called me, and I took her to the hospital.

The next day she had to be revived and Friday night she died. It happened so quickly that the doctors could not keep up with her deterioration.

Before transitioning she lost consciousness and continued to swell as her flesh was being eaten away. Julie Sue passed without ever being able to communicate with us.

I have seen these places get very high scores which means that there are basic areas that are not considered when the health inspector is inspecting the various places. CDC estimates that each year roughly one-in-six Americans (or 48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of food-borne diseases.

Research reveals that eating in restaurants doubles our risk of getting sick. I love taking the risk. My husband prefers cooking and eating at home. He does most of the cooking so I cannot say that I am tired of cooking because he will say, “Oh, you just go upstairs and write while I cook.”

I am like most Americans. I enjoy eating out and for many of us it is our one form of social life. I make up any excuse to eat out.

He loves vegetables so I use that as an excuse. I will say “You know, we do not eat as much vegetables as we used to.” He will look at me kinda like “I know you are tricking me, but, ‘OK.’”

That is why I am hoping that the establishments would teach the workers about cleaning the dining space. It is almost like cleaning the bathroom with the same cloth that is used in the kitchen.

One never knows what customers are dealing with in terms of sickness. Many people are ill, but not too ill to go out to a restaurant and their space must be cleaned up after they leave.

Workers are told to wash their hands before returning to the kitchen and many times the restrooms are dirty and out of paper and soap. Customers should always report that situation to whomever is in charge. Help them keep it clean for us all.

If you see something, say something for the general good of us all.

We are approaching the holiday season when much eating out for many families will be taking place. Let us continue to be in the number eating out but not the 48 million getting sick doing so.

Willie Mae Samuel is a playwright and a director in Rome. She is the founder and director of the African American Connection of the Performing Arts Inc.

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