We all instill a certain level of trust into the restaurants we eat at, and most of them are worthy of it. However, you'll be praising health inspectors everywhere when you find out what their job is really like and some of the things they've seen while doing it.
Ask around and you'll find that quite a few people will tell you they'll continuously go back to a questionable restaurant just because the food is that good. You know, one of those places that
Well, maybe for the most part, but some restaurants only get up to par because a health inspector makes their way in. Have you ever wondered what they look for when they're making their way through a place you eat at weekly? We’ll tell you, but some of their stories might prevent you from stepping foot in a restaurant ever again. Check out what these health inspectors had to say during a recent interview with Mental Floss.
National Chains Are Usually Safe
You can all breathe a collective sigh of relief because chain restaurants are the ones that will be given that coveted “A” rating most often. Why? Bill Benson, a former health inspector who did private work for large franchises, said it’s because bigger business
“Think of Chipotle,” he said. “It was only a few locations, but they lost hundreds of millions in revenue. Big companies are risk-averse.” Larger brands are also more likely to conduct their own inspections on a regular basis, in addition to inspections done by the government, which might only happen twice a year.
They Can Actually Smell Cockroaches
Something as simple as a single delivery could end up bringing cockroaches into even the cleanest restaurant. When there's a full-on infestation, however? Your local health inspector can actually smell their presence in the restaurant.
“You get used to the smell,” Benson said. “It’s nutty and kind of oily. You walk into a building and you just know.”
Buffets Are NOT Your Friend
If you've ever thought that giving hundreds of strangers access to pans of the same food sounded like a bad idea, you were right. Sometimes, a buffet restaurant will do everything right and the actual line of food will still be disgusting.
“I’ve seen kids sticking their hands in there, grabbing handfuls of fries,” said Taylor, a health inspector in the southern part of the country.
Never Trust the Ice Machines
Of all the places for grime to lurk, a restaurant ice maker would probably be the last place consumers would be wary of. However, according to a Midwestern health inspector named Tim, there's a lot to worry about.
“Since they don't know where to look, the ice machine can go for very long periods without being sanitized,” he said. Surprisingly, even mold can grow in ice machines fairly easily, mainly when an ice machine is turned off and turned back on without being cleaned.
Tim said that because the machines are dark and require some odd angles to get a look inside, people often don't take the time to investigate further than what they can see easily.
They Have to Work Fast
You might think a restaurant health inspection would be something that takes hours to complete so the inspector can scour every inch of the establishment. In reality, though, that's actually not the case. Taylor said that his visits often start with a power-walk through the kitchen to catch people unprepared.
“We want to see the things that won’t be there in another three or four minutes,” he said. This even includes violations from employees, such as not wearing gloves, having personal food or drinks in a food prep area, or having a dirty rag lying near prepared food.
Owners and Managers Don't Take Bad News Easily
We often hear about clueless restaurant owners ignoring the fact that something blatantly gross and wrong is bad. Take this story from Reddit user Joetheweirdo as an example:
“My favorite Chinese restaurant got shut down. My ex-wife worked for the city and I asked her what was the deal. She said the health inspectors found something leaking from the ceiling. They lifted the ceiling tile and shined a
Oh, and those scores? An “A” grade means that the restaurant received 13 or
Unlabeled Bottles? RUN.
While restaurant workers might think they know what's stored in those unlabeled containers and bottles around the kitchen, they could easily forget. It takes just one person to refill an unmarked sugar container with salt and, suddenly, an entire dinner service is thrown off course.
Not to mention that cleaning supplies often make their way onto kitchen counters and could pose a serious health risk when left unmarked. “You don’t know water from bleach,” Taylor said.
Jewelry Is A No-No
Think about the last time you actually made the effort to sanitize a ring you wear every day. It probably doesn't happen too often, right? Now think about a restaurant worker wearing a ring they haven’t taken off for months and touching your food with bare hands because they forgot to put on a glove.
“Jewelry is considered a contamination risk,” Benson said. “You don’t want something to fall into a food product.”
Speaking of things falling into food, Reddit user TomorrowWendy shared a story from her husband, a former health inspector, told her after an interesting day on the job:
“He got a complaint about a pizza delivery place that I'll just call Pizza Nut. The complaint was that someone's acrylic nail was on the pizza when it arrived. The person brought the fingernail to the health dept in a bag. It was ornate, painted with flowers, etc. he goes to the pizza place, begins explaining the situation to the manager. She says ‘
They Don't Eat Where They Inspect
Whether a restaurant had a good score or a bad one, health inspectors try not to go to any restaurant that they've graded.
Believe it or not, the reason comes down to ethics more than anything. “If you give them a low score, they might come back with, ‘Well, you had a sandwich here last Tuesday, we can’t be that bad,’” Taylor said.
He explained that he's also gone back to places after inspections just as a customer, and once received fried pickles on the house along with his drink, assuming they were a gift for a good inspection. “I can’t accept those,” he said. “You can’t be bribing a health inspector with fried pickles.”