Restaurant Grades Are Important: Here's Why
“Dirty dining” is something we all typically avoid. Even without thinking about the consequences of food poisoning, for most of us, a dirty restaurant or restaurant with a bad reputation is enough to turn our stomachs. However, foodborne illnesses can occur anywhere and at any time. For these reasons, food safety is a serious business. It is an important element in protecting public health. Still, even with all of the regulations placed on the restaurant industry, each year an estimated 48 million people get sick from foodborne illnesses. This is why states conduct health inspections of the foodservice industry. The information collected from these inspections is public information. In many cases, health inspectors distill the information to give restaurant grades.
What is the purpose of restaurant grades?
While different cities, counties, and states have different regulations and ways of grading inspections, there are certain inspection practices that occur in nearly every health inspection. In the U.S., every eating establishment is subject to an unscheduled inspection by trained public health officials. Depending on where you live determines how your favorite local restaurant will receive a grade. For example, in New York and Los Angeles, restaurants receive a letter grade based on a points system. On the other hand, several counties in Texas grade restaurants on a 100-point scale.
Regardless of how the scores or grades are obtained, these pop-up inspections are an incentive for restaurants to stay clean and practice proper food handling. If a restaurant receives a bad inspection grade, it could cost the restaurant thousands of dollars in lost sales.
In addition to restaurants, any place that requires food preparation such as catering businesses, daycares, and nursing homes are subject to health inspections and receiving restaurant grades.
How are restaurant grades calculated?
Where you live determines what kind of grade you will see when you look up a restaurant’s health inspection record. Generally, a health inspector will have a list of items to check. For example, an inspection report will ensure that an inspector checks on protections from contamination, proper recordkeeping and proper use of utensils. Each violation is associated with points. Points generally depend on the:
- Type of violation
- Extent of the violation
- The risk it poses to the publi
At the end of the inspection, the health inspector will total the points and give the restaurant a score.
What are health inspectors looking for in a restaurant?
Generally, health departments want to ensure that your food is being properly stored and protected from contamination. This means ingredients should be kept in the proper containers, at the right temperature and stored away from questionable items such as cleaning supplies. In addition, health inspectors will also look at how food is prepared. Is your staff practicing proper handwashing? Is your facility set up so that staff can properly wash their hands?
Generally, health inspectors look at the following:
Raw foods should be separated and from ready-to-eat foods. Further ingredient should be kept in food-grade containers with tight-fitting lids. Health inspectors take points off for the following violations:
- Food is stored uncovered
- Food is stored too close to the ground in your storeroom
- Inappropriate containers
- Food is not properly labeled with use-by dates
- Menu descriptions are misleading
- Employees aren’t wearing gloves when preparing ready-to-eat foods
- Storing cleaning products near food
- Food handlers have cell phones near them while preparing food (on countertops or chopping boards)
- Storing dripping meats above raw ingredients
- There are signs of pests such as rats, mice or roaches near your storage facilities
Improper holding temperatures
The most common reason food poisoning occurs is that restaurants store food at improper temperatures. Foodborne illnesses from restaurants are typically the result of ingesting staphylococcus or e. Coli. About 50 percent of people carry staph. The bacteria transfer to food when food handlers don’t practice proper handwashing. The bacteria reproduce and release toxins that make humans sick when food is stored at the wrong temperature.
Poor personal hygiene
Hand washing is crucial to preventing foodborne illnesses. It is important for restaurants to have properly equipped handwashing stations. In addition, inspectors want to make sure that employees are practicing proper hygiene in other areas. For example, they want to make sure that food handlers have:
- Proper food safety certificates
- Clean clothes
- Long hair properly tied up
- Open wounds or rashes covered
Lack of general cleanliness
A dirty kitchen breeds bacteria. Restaurants should make sure all floors, walls, ceilings, equipment and food preparation surfaces are clean and sanitized. In addition, restaurants should also make sure that there are no signs of pests or mold in the kitchen. In addition, employees should make sure to properly dispose of trash.
Another way health inspectors assign restaurant grades is by ensuring no sick and contagious employees are working. According to the CDC, 20 percent of food workers have admitted to working at least one shift while suffering from contagious symptoms like vomiting or diarrhea. Sick staff should always be sent home. If the kitchen staff handling food and there are signs that they are sick, a restaurant is putting the public at risk.
Health inspectors will sometimes ask staff about foodborne illnesses. This is to make sure that restaurants understand the consequences of allowing sick employees to continue their shifts.
Does a passing grade mean a restaurant is safe?
While restaurant grades and inspections are a way to ensure a restaurant is doing everything it can to keep its patrons safe, it does not actually guarantee safety. Some restaurant owners even take restaurant loans to make the changes necessary to meet health and safety standards. Unless a health violation complaint is filed against a business, then these inspections generally only occur once a year. During that year, any of the above instances can happen that can make you sick.
But there are some things you can do to avoid foodborne illnesses.
- Be selective in where you eat. This is especially important if you have a disease that makes recovering from an infection difficult, such as diabetes. Heed the warnings of others and check your county or city’s inspection log. Doing these two things can save you from serious illness and possible medical bills if you get too sick.
- Smell your food. Even after its cooked, spoiled food will have a putrid smell. If your meal isn’t aromatic and delicious, send it back.
- Order popular items on the menu. Turnover on the items are typically high. This means your food hasn’t been sitting in the fridge for too long.
- Avoid buffets. Buffets are extremely dangerous. Food needs to be kept hot and comes at a huge risk when it is kept lukewarm. Lukewarm food allows bacteria to multiply which can make you extremely sick.
- Avoid salad bars too. A 2013 study from the CDC found that leafy greens are the most common culprit behind food poisoning. While, a salad bar may seem like the logical choice for a healthy lunch, it might be best to just make a salad at home.
The Carlson Law Firm Can Help Victims of Food Poisoning
Food poisoning cases are some of the more complex civil lawsuits. In order to have standing in court, you will need to prove that the restaurant is responsible for your illnesses and thus is responsible for subsequent medical bills. If you or a loved one became ill after eating or drinking contaminated food or drink at a restaurant, contact The Carlson Law Firm.