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Posts Tagged ‘sanitation

“God loveth the clean”*…

The history of ordinary things can be fascinating while offering insight into our immediate future. We’ve previously noted how artificial ice and assorted refrigeration/cooling technologies helped change demographics in the American South. Recent news from the Census Bureau confirms this trend as northern states like Michigan and New York lost population while the south, Texas and Florida in particular, gained. But the history of the ordinary can be hidden by ubiquity, tedium, and general disinterest. Unnoticed until they cry out for attention. Today’s Tedium is looking at the history of New York City restaurant inspections and the variety of ways restaurants cope. (And yes, the pandemic has certainly had an impact.)

There is no shortage of great New Yorkers, the people that helped shape the city and its culture. How one measures impact can vary. The wealthy and influential find their names on street signs, convention centers, and airports. A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, however, there is a renewed appreciation for those that helped lay the foundation for the city’s hospitals and medical care. In this regard, there are few New Yorkers greater than Dr. Sigismund Goldwater. 

A graduate of Columbia University and NYU medical school, Dr. Goldwater was a recognized authority in hospital construction. Among the numerous posts he held over a distinguished career included Superintendent at Mount Sinai Hospital, president of the American Conference on Hospital Service, and vice president of the New York Academy of Medicine. In recognition of his career and experience, he was appointed City Commissioner of Hospitals from 1934 to 1940. During his administration, Dr. Goldwater oversaw the construction of 25 new hospital buildings. His Times obituary credits him with adding more than 5,000 hospital beds to city capacity.

While his work in hospital administration and construction helped lay the foundation for New York City as a world-class center for health care, Dr. Goldwater has a legacy a bit more meaningful to modern restaurateurs. In 1914, Mayor John Purroy Mitchel was newly elected and in need of a health commissioner. His first choice, Dr. Goldwater, didn’t really want the job but finally acquiesced on the strong insistence of his predecessor. 

About six months after taking over the role, now Health Commissioner Goldwater announced a couple of general initiatives in public transportation and dining to ensure general cleanliness, pointing out to the Times that, “…the Sanitary Code at present did not call for regular inspection as in the case of bakeries and meat markets.” His solution was to require permits and require commercial restaurants to be inspected on an annual basis.

Public health, especially regarding sanitary food handling practices, had grabbed media attention in the early 20th century in part to Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. Sinclair, an investigative journalist, went undercover to detail the working conditions in meat packing facilities. His account of rat infested factories and spoiled meat products shipped to consumers provoked outrage. Unfortunately for Sinclair, who was trying to shed light on the conditions of workers, readers were incensed to learn what was in their food. By 1905, the federal government had passed legislation to create what would become the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Another unique circumstance that kept food safety in the minds of New Yorkers was the terrible tale of Mary Mallon, better known as Typhoid Mary. A private cook that was also an asymptomatic carrier of typhoid, Mary Mallon became infamous for her condition, the number of people she infected, and her refusal to cooperate with safety guidelines. [See here]

There was another reason for the attention Mary Mallon received, explains Claire Stewart, a chef and hospitality management professor at the New York City College of Technology. “Typhoid was considered a disease of the poor and associated with immigrants and overcrowded tenements,” she said. “Mary Mallon spent a lot of her career cooking for wealthy people, so her bringing typhoid to the upper classes caused a lot of alarm.”

Still, by the time Dr. Goldwater became health commissioner, New York City had yet to regulate restaurants, creating a range of dining experiences and anxiety about the status of any given kitchen.

One concerned citizen wrote to the Times in a letter titled, “We Need Dainty Waiters.”, “In these days of pure food laws and Boards of Health… I would like to ask what assurance, if any, has the public that in our hotels, restaurants, and clubs proper supervision over their employes is exercised so as to insure us a fair degree of cleanliness on the part of those who handle the food we are to eat? This inquiry is prompted by occurrences coming under the personal observation of the writer, showing that employes in so-called high-class hotels, clubs, and restaurants are often guilty of practices which would not be tolerated in our own homes. One large restaurant in this city requires its waiters to pass an inspection by a manicure before they are allowed to handle food for its patrons.”

After Dr. Goldwater noted that other cities had also adopted regular restaurant inspections, and noting the potential for additional revenue via fines and permit fees, the city agreed. Now they just had to get some 15,000 owners and operators to comply. Should be easy, right?…

The wacky and surprising history of NYC restaurant inspections (and by extension, that same system in other cities). That letter grade is a lot more effective than you might think: “The Letter in the Window.” By Andrew Egan, in Ernie Smith’s (@ShortFormErnie) ever-illuminating newsletter Tedium (@readtedium).

* Francis Bacon

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As we wash our hands, we might recall that it was on this date in 1913 that Gideon Sundback was granted a patent on the first modern zipper. While he did well with his invention for several decades, he and his western competitors were overtaken in the mid-20th century by YKK.

Most checked chefs pants still have buttons.

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“Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die”*…

 

Further to Wednesday’s almanac entry on America’s first independent municipal sewer system

Sometime in mid to late January, researchers from MIT plan to gather around a manhole on Portland Street in East Cambridge, dressed in plastic disposable biohazard coats and gloves. Each hour over the next 24, working in teams of two over four-hour shifts, they’ll sink a tube into the muck and pump one to two liters of sewage water into a plastic container. The container will be put into a cooler and taken to the nearby lab at MIT run by Eric Alm, a computational microbiologist. Alm’s lab will analyze all 24 of these sludgy samples to see what viruses and bacteria they hold; meanwhile, a vial of each sample will be sent to another lab to be analyzed for biomarkers (molecular or cellular flags for things like diseases and drugs, legal and illegal ).

These researchers—who include architects, computational biologists, designers, electrical and mechanical engineers, geneticists, and microbiologists—will be testing an idea that’s attracting interest around the world: namely, that sewage can tell us important things about the people who excrete it. Already, research has shown that sewage can reveal illicit drug usage, the presence of influenza, the poliovirus and other pathogens, and the state of community health. So far, however, none of this has been tested in our local waste systems, other than some proof-of-concept sampling done in Boston. That has led to this first formal effort by scientists and public health officials to get a sewage snapshot of the people of Cambridge…

Get to the bottom at “What does Cambridge sewage say about residents? MIT plans to find out.”

* Mel Brooks

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As we hold our noses, we might recall that it was on this date in 1594 that Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus was first performed (by Sussex’s Men at The Rose).  Titus‘s premiere is the first performance of a Shakespeare play of which there is precise record (though confident deduction dates other plays’ performances earlier); it was recorded in Philip Henslowe‘s diary.  It is also the only Shakespeare play for which a contemporary illustration survives, the work of a drawing master named Henry Peacham.

The Peacham drawing (c.1595)

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Written by LW

January 23, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Some people see the glass half full. Others see it half empty. I see a glass that’s twice as big as it needs to be”*…

 

Concave drawing of the Getty gardens

 

David Hockney has famously pondered perspective in his work; when criticized for a lack of “reality,” he’s observed,

Cubism was an attack on the perspective that had been known and used for 500 years. It was the first big, big change. It confused people: they said, ‘Things don’t look like that!’

The twin brothers Ryan and Trevor Oakes share his adventurousness in seeing in the artwork that they create together.

As children in the back seat, Trevor and Ryan Oakes noticed that when they focused on the horizon, bugs on the windshield seemed to split in two. Twenty-odd years later these identical twins are still investigating the intricacies of visual perception. This show pulls back the curtain on a decade of their optical obsession. To avoid the distortions that occur when the world is traced onto a flat canvas, the twins have built a concave metal easel that allows them to sketch directly onto the inside of a sphere. Rather than using lenses or mirrors to project an image onto canvas, as the Renaissance masters did, the twins have devised an ultra-low-tech method for sketching from life: they cross their eyes until an object floats onto their paper’s edge — and then they trace it. Visitors can marvel at the plaster helmet (dubbed an “optical cockpit” by Lawrence Weschler) where the twins have spent hours with their eyes out of stereo alignment [cross-eyed], reproducing skylines and courtyards into curved paper with a supernatural sense of depth and perspective. During the exhibition, the twins will haul their curved easel outside the museum to trace the Flatiron building with their cross-eyed technique. “Our subject matter is as much an eye looking as the thing being looked at,” said Trevor. Ryan added, “We’re dissecting what it feels like to have two eyes.”

See more, learn more at OakesOakes.

[TotH to @MartyKrasney]

* George Carlin

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As we focus on the tips of our noses, we might recall that it was on this date in 1880 that the City of Memphis, Tennessee began construction of the first independent municipal sewage system in the U.S.  Independent sewer systems had been introduced in 25 years earlier in England; but American engineers at the time, still favored “combined” systems, in which storm water and sewage were handled in the same large pipes.  Memphis was the first U.S. municipal system to forgo the benefits of the natural “flushing” provided by rain water, opting for smaller, dedicated pipes.

Memphis suffered through several severe plagues of cholera (1873) and yellow fever (1878 and 1879) — over 10,000 lives were lost. The city recognized the need to get their sanitary sewage away from their water sources (then, primarily small private wells), even though the final decision was erroneously based on the belief that yellow fever was being caused by inadequate sanitation practices. The city and the state legislature tried to raise monies; the efforts gained some of the money they thought would be needed for a new sewer system — but not a lot.

The situation in Memphis aroused the sympathy of the nation and was largely responsible for the creation of the National Board of Health. The Board retained and sent Col. George E. Waring, Jr., [who had gained notoriety draining Central Park] to Memphis. He designed what he thought was a system Memphis could afford, but also one he felt would work: a separate system using 6″ diameter laterals, with sewers with 112-gallon flush-tank mechanisms placed at the upstream terminal end of each of the lateral (collector) sewer runs — to be flushed once every 24 hours. The house connection sewers were 4″ diameter. Both vertical and horizontal changes of alignment were routinely done along the long runs of manhole-less gravity sewer mains. No more than 300 homes were to be connected to each 6″ main. No rain water was to be made tributary to these sewers and the sewer system was to be vented through the soil pipe plumbing system in each house..

SewerHistory.org

Col. George E. Waring, Jr.

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Written by LW

January 21, 2015 at 1:01 am

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