The other night I was reading the Sunday paper (yes, it takes me a week to get through the Sunday paper) and it had the list of restaurants inspected recently and the problems found and fines charged... I was curious about this and thought I'd pose the question to the restaurant owners and inspectors on the boards... do the restaurant owners know when an inspector will be coming? Do they inspect unannounced? Are they anonymous in their inspections or do they announce themselves the minute they walk in?
And if you are or were a restaurant inspector, how can you possibly bring yourself to eat in any restaurant ever again after the stuff you've seen?
We do not know when an inspector is coming, but I can tell you from experience "about" when they're coming. There are X amount of inspectors and have to cover Y amount of restaurants, therefore they come approximately every 4 months (in our case).
To the inspector, it's like an Easter Egg hunt. They HAVE to find something to put on their report so their bosses know they've been on the site and are not out in the city park throwing frisbees all day. One time our inspector could not find any violation so he actually went onto neighboring property to look for a hole in their trash can or something.
The inspectors themselves are not well trained and the rules are open for interpretation. We have one inspector who tells us the scoop for the ice machine needs to stay in the ice where bacteria can't live, and another inspector who tells us the scoop must remain out of the ice so bacteria can't spread through ice contamination. Go figure. We don't argue and just put the scoop wherever that inspector wants it.
There are different categories of violations and if a violation has serious potential to public health the place can be shut down until the problem is corrected. There are other minor infractions which just need to be corrected by the next inspection. Once, we had a single light bulb over the door to a storage shed in the back of the property. He put on his report we needed to have the light bulb encased shatterproof enclosure. Why? Because he had to have something to put on his report.
Our inspectors come once a year. They come unannounced and walk right on in-You have to let them. We ran a VERY clean restaurant and usually they couldn't find anything to write down, so they would find things, like the bleach water was too far away from the cooking area or the lettuce was on the wrong shelf. I once had an inspector laying on the floor, with a flash light looking under the counters in the corners and then telling me I had "some build up" on the floor under there. That is when I told her fill out her paper work, and leave. If you have a clean establishment you dont' have problems. When you run a dirty one, well look out. I have heard where the inspectors have taken meat out of the frig. and poured bleach on it because it wasn't the right temp! I think most of the rules they have us going by are very good for us and the customers. I also think/know that if you have an inspector that is a real prick then you also have problems. I have walked in restaurants and looked around and then walked right out, wondering where the heck the inspectors are for that place.
To let you know about were the inspectors eat, I had an inspector tell me our restaurant was the only place we would eat, and he quickly placed an order. He had to pay for it, it is the law.
If you are thinking of a restaurant and you have never been there. Walk out behind the building, if it is a mess, I am thinking and do go by the fact that it is messy inside also. The outside of the building is just as important as the inside.
Sorry, I just realized I didn't answer your other question.
They are not anonymous. We all know who the inspectors are and when they come in they want to see the kitchen. After the inspection they fill out their form and ask you to sign it and then give you a copy. Their copy goes back to the office with them and is filed.
I have to agree with Nicki also, about where the inspectors eat. Our inspector has worked as a tour bus driver on his off hours and has brought the bus load of people to our place for dinner.
As a matter of public safety let me also inform you that inspectors are low paid government employees who are probably tempted from time to time to look the other way! We have never, and will never, ask for special treatment or try to slip the inspector some cash to overlook a problem. We welcome the inspector as an outside consultant who can help us protect our customers health. Believe me, you do not ever want your customers to get sick from eating at your place and the inspector is a partner with you to help insure that does not occur.
However, we have had employees from time to time who worked in other restaurants who said the inspector never went into their kitchen at all. He met the owner out front, they would sit at a table and BS a little bit (read: accept payoff) and then leave.
I work for a Local Health Department and we do not tell the restaurants that we are inspecting their restaurant on a particular day. Just because the place is clean it does not mean they have no problems, for example, the restaurant can be clean but if no hand washing is being done especially after a food handler goes to the toilet somebody could get sick.
Gary is right, and that's one of the problems that is masked by the Division Inspection. Typically, for us anyway, the inspection is done during off hours when employees are not around or, if they are, they are doing prep work, such as setting the tables, stocking the bar, etc. So the inspectors don't get to watch the habits of the workers and help us improve in that area.
The facility and equipment can be in great shape, with all the food stored at proper temperatures, exhaust hoods working properly, utensils sanitized properly, etc. but an employee shows up for work with bad hygiene or unsafe work practices and ruins everything. If people were to get sick from this individual's problems they are not going to blame the worker, they are going to blame the establishment.
I don't like the fact the Division has cut back on the inspectors to cut costs, but people want to pay less in taxes and this is a result of that. Less inspectors means less inspections which means less protection for the public.
Thomas (who doesn't mind paying higher taxes to increase the number of inspectors)
This has been a very interesting thread to me as I work for the county health dept (but it's really a state agency, go figure.....) In Florida the health dept. has NOT done restaurant inspections for many years. We lost this to the Division of Business and Professional Regulation. (guess they had stronger lobbyists?) I don't understand the wisdom of taking a program away from an agency that emphasizes public health and giving it to an agency that always seemed more interested in the financial end of it.
Many moons ago (1989 or so) when I did inspect restaurants it was always an unannounced inspection. I found it useful to go to the back door if possible as this cut down on whatever quick fixes the staff might try.Not that I was "out to get" anyone.....just think I saw a more realistic view of the operation. We did try to go not exactly at the height of the lunch rush but at least not when things weren't operating.
I agree with Nicki that there are inspectors who are in it mostly to be the biggest prick. Sometimes there would be locations with no violations and I never felt compelled to "have" to find something but I have worked with people who would go in with an attitude and that just makes for a difficult inspection all around. I've always seen my job as an educator.....at least on the first trip through a facility....reinspections with repeat violations would end up at a hearing and be fined.
Nicki also makes a good point about look around the outside of the restaurant for clues to the cleanliness. (I"m so glad that I no longer have to look at dumpsters in the summer to be sure they're kept closed)
Eating out is really sort of a cr*p shoot but it helps if you pay attention to the place. Don't ever be afraid to walk out of a place....especially if it smells funky when you walk in.
As far as inspectors on the take.....not that I've seen.....lots of owners try to feed you (mostly when I was pregnant.....morning sickness and chicken coolers don't mix!) but to me it wasn't worth it because then they might feel like you owe them.....and it was usually the worst places that wanted to feed you!
Angela Z., who was never thinner than when she inspected restaurants.
I've wondered about the "payoff" aspect., Thomas. It's sad that some restaurant owners don't have your attitude about being in partner with their inspectors - would make for better (and safer) conditions in restaurants.
We've become friends with the owner of our favorite Chinese restaurant. One day my son noticed that the health inspection had "gone down" to a 98. The owner explained he had a small crack (he showed it to us - you needed a microsope to see it!) in his sneeze guard over the salad buffet.
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I think payoffs are rare, but let's be honest here, if the inspector never visits the kitchen what do you think is happening...........hmmmmmm, tickets to the game perhaps?
Tax cuts have resulted in fewer inspectors and more restaurants. The inspectors are now covering more restaurants and that means less frequent inspections. Joe Public is always crying for less taxes but doesn't realize the full impact of this.
The inspector we've seen for the last 2 - 3 years has an attitude, for sure. "I'm a government official" he boasts with chest stuck out. But we are glad to have another set of eyes looking at our operation helping us get better.
Don’t get me started…about the restaurant that was infested with Barbershop vocalist….<jk>
Here in Palm Beach County, we have a website that allows you to look at the inspection history of food establishments within the county. As I recall, there is a similar site for cruise ships as well.
Jason If a grin is transmittable, and laughing is contagious, here’s hoping for an epidemic!