Thursday, December 2, 2010

Food Safety

Food Safety:
 “Know the Score Before you walk through the Door.”

These days everyone loves eating out.  It seems there's a restaurant on every corner, serving up everything from Japanese to down home southern cooking.  However, when you sit down to eat do you ever pay attention to the look of the food and how hot it is when it's served? "Or, do you just assume everything is fine?

While you can find good food at any price, there are some things you simply can’t afford to ignore. According to The Centers for Disease Control an estimated 76 million people get sick from food related illnesses each year. 3000 end up in an emergency room, while 5000 others die. Their only sin, ordering off the menu.
Let’s be honest, most of us would rather not think about what could be happening to our food before it reaches our restaurant table. However, to keep you and your family safe, you should always check out your health department's website which will tell you which restaurant to check out and which ones to avoid.
In the restaurant business you’re only as good as your last inspection. For some embattled kitchens, the pen is mightier than the sword. All of your favorite hangouts start out with high marks, but by the end of the day many end up in “kitchen detention.” 
Every week the kitchen cops, i.e. State Health Inspectors, put area restaurants to the test, making sure that all the required health codes are being followed by those who are making and preparing your food. It’s kind of a sanitary pop quiz where there’s no margin for error, no benefit of the doubt and often times, no mercy. That's because your family’s health depends on it!

The results are posted on a state issued inspection sheet, a report card state health officials consider a legal binding document. The inspection sheet rates the establishment on sanitary practices, plus it spells out the difference between minor infractions-versus- a critical violation that could make you sick--critical violations are flagged in red. “Critical violations carry a 4 or 5 point deduction; minor problems can carry one or two points.
The clean kitchen test is always based on 100 possible points, inspectors draw the line at 85. Some pass, some don’t. Either way, a copy of the score and any and all infractions are left behind and posted at the restaurant for all to see. The inspection sheet is also split down the middle with the left side pointing out problems with the restaurant workers’ personal hygiene and if they're keeping food at the proper temperature.  On the right side of the sheet, is--where inspectors look for things like structural damage, lighting, and plumbing problems.  There's even room for noting the presence of insects.
If roaches are discovered, most of us would cringe at the thought, but listen to this, a restaurant busted for having the insects can still get a passing grade. Matter of fact, they can get a score as high as 96 because having roaches is only a 4 point deduction on the inspector’s checklist.  A creepy, crawly reminder that even if there’s a rating of 90 and above on the wall, it doesn’t mean everything is perfect.
Other infractions include employees eating and drinking in the food prep area, touching your ready to eat food with their bare hands. Each carries the maximum penalty of a 5 point deduction. 
In 2006, the Alabama Department of Public Health adopted stiffer penalties against restaurants trying to hide more than their “secret recipes.”  That’s right local health officials can take it a step further, they now have the power to deduct two crucial points from the final score of any restaurant caught hiding and/or altering their inspection sheets from the dining public.

State law mandates that every restaurant post their scores from their most recent inspection in an open area near the front door. It’s your best way of knowing who truly deserves your repeat business. 
So, the next time you eat out, you might want to check out that posted score, because those numbers may keep you or your family from becoming another statistic.  

Article appeared in
Radar Magazine Nov/Dec 2010 Issue