• Mike Hughes

Did you see the recent Health Inspections?

Updated: Jan 14

I was perusing social media recently, and people were sharing a link that allowed others to see all the areas Restaurant Health inspections. I have referred to the databases for years personally, as not only have I looked at them to see MY own inspections and that of my competitors, I would also occasionally use them to determine where I should avoid as a consumer. I will state that I don’t really think that everyone should go out and start reading all these reports if you ever want to dine out again. I eat out every week, and if I based my decisions on health reports, my list of places would shrink. However I also know what to be concerned about and what NOT to freak out about when reading these.

So, as I am reading all the underlying comments whenever someone shared this link, there was a mix of horror and acceptability. Much of the acceptability was from people who have spent time working in the business. So it begs the question; should the general population use public health reports as a guide to decide where to have dinner?

Yes and no. . .There is a lot of data inside these reports. So before you write off your favorite all time restaurant due to seeing 1 critical and 7 non-critical violations, you need to know what you are looking for.

To cut to the chase on choosing a restaurant based on clean reporting. . .The restaurants with the deepest ingrained good habits the consistently knockout 0 critical, 0 Non-critical violations year in and year out, are always a safe bet. Does it mean they have outstanding food and service? No. It simply means that if you eat there, it’s a decent bet that in 48 hours you won’t be hunched over a toilet.

You see, health inspectors arrive at a restaurant with no warning, and when they get there, they are focused on 1 thing. Habits. They are eagle eyed and are watching every staff members “habits” as they go about their business. They will know how the visit is going to go in the first 5 minutes of their arrival. They will see that server who is constantly brushing her hair back with her fingers and then plating sides of food and never visiting a hand sink and they will notate it. It is a violation. They will see that cook who while walking around a corner sees some debris on the floor and picks it up tossing it away, all while continuing his journey back to the line and making a sandwich? That is a violation. Critical violations on these reports should catch your attention. They are critical for a reason, and as these build up on a report, you can assure that good habits in that restaurant are absent. Critical violations can make you sick, and in rare cases can cost you your life.

Yes, just by choosing the wrong restaurant.

The most common critical infractions are temperature violations. Not keeping hot food above 140 degrees and cold food below 40 degrees. As the inspector is watching every move the staff makes, he or she is also checking temperatures on all their hot and cold food. If they temp something in the refrigerator and it’s 52 degrees, they will ask why. Is EVERYTHING in that cooler 52 degrees or just one item that wasn’t cooled properly? There are guidelines for everything, including how to cool food from boiling, to under 40 degrees. You can’t just stick soup in the cooler at 200 degrees and expect it to get below 40 degrees in a safe amount of time. There is a reason it’s called the DANGER ZONE. Improperly stored food is very dangerous, and any restaurant that continues to have these temperature violations should end up on your do not visit list. Also be wary of a report that indicates that no thermometers are present. If the restaurant can’t take the temperatures of their own food and coolers, how the hell do they know if it’s safe?

There is something else to consider when looking at these reports, and that is because health inspections are subjective. I know this because in my decades of being on the receiving end of inspections, there were times when I had a zero infraction visit and I knew I wasn’t that good. The inspector and I had a solid relationship and they knew I ran a decent ship. He was simply just pleased the place looked good and the 3 temperatures he checked were spot on. The inspection ended before he even got to my several violations I KNEW existed. So while the goal for any restaurant is a perfect inspection, understand that these restaurants rarely exist. As a diner looking to go out to eat, if I do use inspections as a guide, I look at not only the current report, but past reports as well. If they are consistently a zero critical and an under 6 or 7 non-critical violations, I won’t think twice about going. Even the tightest run restaurants can earn a handful of non-critical violations. It doesn’t mean they are gross. . .It means they are run by humans. However in regards to the restaurant staff habits, that is where the biggest reasons are to be very careful when choosing. Every critical violation can be traced back to human beings allowing them to happen. When one team member decides to place a tray of raw chicken above the chocolate cake, or a cook who will take a cutting board that was recently used for meat, and just rinse it before cutting lettuce, or taking that knife that he just used to trim a piece of chicken, wipe it on their apron and then cut a club sandwich, these are all critical violations that will bite you. And if they are brazen enough to do these in front of a health inspector, they are doing irresponsible and unsafe things every day. How many of you were ever in the public bathroom in a restaurant, and as you are sitting on the throne, you noticed out of the corner of your eye that the feet in the stall next to you are dirty restaurant work shoes and checkered restaurant pants. Then you hear that person leave and don’t hear the water running and hand dryer. I have seen that happen. What next? Notify a manager and vacate the building. If the Seinfeld episode where Poppy did this in front of Jerry pops in your head, then we have something in common.

“Oh, they used hand sanitizer,” the manager proclaims! Hand sanitizer NEVER should replace hot, soapy water. Did you know that the Health department specification for hand washing is hot and soapy water for 20 seconds? That’s forever for a busy restaurant worker.

Ok, I digress. . .How about those pesky non-critical violations though? Are there many of them that should concern you? By and large, things like kitchen towels not living in sanitizer, plumbing and sinks not correctly sized, missing choking posters and NON food contact surfaces poorly designed, don’t catch my attention. SO what does? Any mention of food contact surfaces not being able to be cleaned, as well as dirty floors, shelving, counters and ceilings. So does inaccessible handwashing facilities. Being out of paper towels at a hand sinks does too. . .They aren’t washing their hands if they can’t dry them. Uncovered and mislabeled food is a non critical violation, but I still hate reading it. Food contact surfaces not washed, rinsed and sanitized after each use and following any time of operations when contamination may have occurred. This one should be critical in my opinion.

So as I wind down this article, I was reading some of my favorite restaurants health reports. One of these places I have gone to for decades. Their last report showed 27 non critical violations and 0 critical violations. Will I go back? Despite the fact that I want to go volunteer my expertise, I won’t do that. . .I will however go there to grab a bite. So if you do use health inspections to decide where to eat, just arm yourself with a little knowledge so you don’t write off your favorite place, or not choose a new place for the wrong reasons.


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