In my family, we eat most of our meals at home. As a stay-at-home mom and housewife, it is important to me that we have family dinners around our own dinner table together! Cooking at home also saves money and allows me to know what ingredients are going into our meals. But, my husband and kids love a good night out. So on special occasions, we treat the family to a meal at one of our favorite restaurants. Because we don’t do it often, we all appreciate it even more! Yesterday, my daughter won her soccer tournament, so we decided to celebrate by taking the whole family out to dinner at our favorite local spot.
I’ve been on a diet, but I believe in the 80/20 principle. If you are healthy 80% of the time, it’s okay to splurge and treat yourself the other 20%! I feel the same way about dishes….which is why I always order the Crispy Oriental Chicken Salad. It’s 80% salad so…how bad can the deep fried chicken and crispy lo-mein noodles on top be? Most importantly it’s always delicious and worth the splurge.
But, this time, when our food came out, something weird happened. I took my first bite of salad and was surprised. The chicken had an odd taste. At first, I thought maybe it was just too salty. But after a couple more bites, I figured it out – my chicken tasted fishy. I thought about saying something, but didn’t want to ruin the night, and felt too embarrassed to complain to the waiter. Everyone else was enjoying their food…so I still thought maybe it was just me. I just ate the salad and avoided the fried chicken on top.
But, when we got home that night, I was still hungry, and still thinking about it. Had there been cross contamination somehow? But how would fish have even touched my chicken? I don’t think it’s supposed to. I decided to do a little digging. Thanks to Google, I found out that my fishy chicken issue wasn’t just a flavor problem. I was so glad after reading about this that I hadn’t finished eating it anyway!
Here is what I learned after reading for a while. Most likely, the reason my chicken salad tasted fishy is because the restaurant doesn’t monitor or change their fryer oil enough. And most likely, they had been cooking fish in the same fryer, long enough for it to become contaminated. I had never even thought about this – I had just assumed that kitchens must regularly change out the oil! Why wouldn’t they? I’m guessing to save money or time. But, there is research that demonstrates that not changing fryer oil consistently can be dangerous to the consumer’s health, and potentially even cancer causing! The particles that made my food taste like fish become charred with fryer overuse, creating carcinogens. Countries in Europe even have rules regarding fryers for this exact reason. But in America, there are zero regulations.
Does this mean we should stop eating fried food from restaurants? Not necessarily. Frying food is a decent way to cook, when it is done safely. The issue isn’t the fact that the food is cooked in oil, but how the oil is filtered, monitored, or changed. Restaurant kitchens can easily prevent this health issue, simply by being diligent with their cleaning practices! So we don’t need to stop eating fried food entirely…just from kitchens who won’t protect their consumers. We need to hold restaurants accountable!
Our government should put a limit on how many times a kitchen can reuse the oil before being required to change it. I won’t be ordering fried food again without calling the restaurant first and asking the kitchen manager some questions. It might feel like a lot of work to investigate, but if a restaurant won’t do the work to keep my family safe, I will take my business somewhere else that does!