Dinner has become a risky undertaking of late. Long gone are the days of gleefully shovelling food into your face, safe in the knowledge that: a) it is indeed what you've been told it is; and b) it won't send you, bent double, to your local GP.
Hot on the hooves of the horsemeat scandal, Noma, widely considered to be the world's best restaurant, was discovered to have sent 67 diners home with Norovirus during the month of February. It's not quite what you'd expect from a tasting menu that costs £170 a head. At that price, you'd rather hope that what you've tasted will stay inside your head, instead of being projected from it.
Presumably, head chef Rene Redzepi has been tirelessly seeking out the source of the outbreak in the same way he does the foraged Nordic ants that are a feature of his celebrated menu. Reports suggest the incident is attributable to a sick kitchen worker, who returned to work a day too early. However, Rene will be relieved to learn that others have suffered a similar fate and gone on to enjoy incredibly lucrative deals with Waitrose.
In 2009, after dining at Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck (a regular fixture in lists of the world's best restaurants), 240 diners were diagnosed with Norovirus. The source of the virus was found to be a supplier whose oyster beds had become contaminated by a nearby sewage-treatment plant and Heston was able to save his reputation. Diners are far more likely to forgive you putting your faith in a rogue supplier, than they are an unsafe kitchen.
For smaller businesses that don't enjoy such a considerable reputation, an incident like this could spell disaster. Being able to identify the source of the problem from myriad of suppliers and convince diners that it was a one off, could be the difference between staying in business and not. If, having spent the last three days either sitting on or kneeling at my toilet, all you can offer me is a shrug and the promise of money off next time, then I'll probably spend my money elsewhere. Even if that means staying in with a frozen lasagne that may become the subject of a Michael Morpurgo book.
Even before the furore over equine-dining, we had become far more interested in what happened to our food before it became our food. Did it live locally? Did it have a big garden with space to move around in? Was it truly happy or was it tormented by an inescapable sense of futility, believing that no matter what it achieved in life, it would end up as a Bird's Eye Chicken Dipper?
Obsessing over food to that degree may not be necessary and better left to the sort of people who make their own clothes. But if you are serving someone a plate of food, at the very least, you need to be confident you know where it has come from and that it won't send them running for the toilet.