If you ordered chicken salad in a Washington restaurant recently, it's 75 per cent probable that you were served turkey, and the D.C. Environmental Health Administration is determined that it will not happen again.
Bailus Walker Jr., the agency's administrator disclosed the findings of a six-week "truth in menus" survey yesterday, and said steps will be taken to encourage honesty among the city's restauranteurs.An enforcement program to punish dishonesty will follow, Walker said.
The survey was conducted at 141 Washington restaurants between Sept. 6 and Oct. 20. Speaking to the International Society of Restaurant Association Executives at the Capital Hilton Hotel, Walker listed these results:
All of the "fresh" shrimp checked turned out to be frozen.
90 per cent of the "prime" ribs of beef were actually of the lesser grade of "choice," and other wrong listing by grades was commonplace.
More than 75 per cent of the baked ham was not baked, but canned or boiled, and "Virginia ham" often turned out to be something else.
More than 75 per cent of the restaurants served chicken salads, chicken sandwiches or chicken dishes made with turkey.
About half of the "kosher" delicatessen products did not meet the Jewish religious requirements for such labeling.
Cheaper cuts are often substituted for veal cutlets.
There was not a single instance where maple syrup when indicated on the menu, was available - all the restaurants were using maple-flavored commercial blends.
Erroneous labeling of the source of food was common: "Spanish" shrimp often came from Mexico, "African" lobster tail from Florida, "Colorado" rainbow trout from Japan, "Everglades" frog legs from India, and there was no way of being sure that "Maine" lobsters came from that state.
Where the size of a portion was shown on the menu - for example, a 12-ounce serving of roast beef - there was a 75 per cent likelihood that it weighed 10 to 20 per cent less.
Walker's presentation was cooly received by the restaurant trade group, whose members took advantage of a question period to argue - anonymously - with the findings.
After Walker noted that the menu descriptions turned out to be 95 per cent accurate, one man arose in the audience to accuse him of "nitpicking . . . The glass is not half empty; it's 95 per cent full."
Walker insisted that consumers have a right to be served what the menu says, even if the wrong item they get is nutritious and pure.
John S. Cockrell, executive vice president of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, which represents 1,100 establishments in the city and suburbs, said the organization has urged its members to comply, partly because of concern over unfavorable publicity.
Cockfell said the campaign is getting results. "The menu printers around Washington have been busier in the past few months than you can imagine," he said.
Walker and Joe Nuzzi, the member of Walker's staff who checked all 141 restaurants, said one of the biggest problems involved the word "fresh."
The word has several shading, the two city officials noted. Coffee that comes from a newly opened can is fresh, but isn't "freshly ground." A vegetable once grozen can never again become fresh. But a frozen pie may be put into an oven and become "freshly baked."
Walker said he plans to hold workshops and circulate bulletins to restaurateurs describing proper practices, and to consult with cafe managers where necessary.
After that, he said there will be an enforcement program.
Initially, Walker said, inspectors making routine checks of restaurants will assess demirits - as they do now for unclean conditions - where they find that management cannot support claims made on menus. Low scores can lead to temporary or permanent restaurant closures.
If it becomes necessary, Walker said he would ask the City Council to adopt legislation that could be enforced through the courts.