Thursday, October 17, 2013

Understanding Restaurant Inspections

Many of us enjoy checking out the results of restaurant inspections from The Olympian newspaper. But do we really know what the results mean?

In Thurston County, there are almost one thousand permitted food establishments, with each one getting routine inspections by Food Safety staff from the Thurston County Public Health and Social Services Department. Scores from restaurant inspections are reported weekly through The Olympian newspaper, as well as through their website

Here is a restaurant inspection report from The Olympian’s website this summer:

EAGAN’S 1420 Harrison Ave. W. Olympia. June 12: Routine check (0 red, 0 blue) Comments: Red — None noted. Blue — None noted.

This shows that Eagan’s was inspected on June 12th and there were no red or blue violations found during the inspection. Violations are scored based on the severity of the problem, from a high of 25 points given for not washing hands properly, to 2 points for needing better lighting.

The food safety concerns we inspect for have not changed much in the last 50 years:

  • Keep cold food at the correct cold temperature.
  • Keep hot food at the correct hot temperature.
  • Wash hands properly and often.
  •  Keep a clean kitchen.
  •  Keep raw meats from other foods.

Take a look at a restaurant inspection form from 1944 to compare with today’s form. We have made great strides in understanding how food can make us sick but the basic food safety steps have been well known for some time.

Red violations are those most likely to cause food-borne illness and must be corrected immediately if feasible, or according to a compliance schedule. An example: not keeping food hot enough (hot holding). This would be corrected by reheating the food to 165 degrees F in order to make sure that there were no harmful bacteria on the food. Other examples of red violations include: refrigerator not cold enough, not washing hands as needed, or not cleaning and sanitizing cutting boards after being used with raw meat.

Blue violations relate to the overall cleanliness and condition of the restaurant and must be corrected within a given timeframe. Examples include: the floor is worn and needs replacing within 3 months, or the grease hood needs to be cleaned within three days. 

When looking at a restaurant with violations, note the number of problems and severity, especially the red items. Most violations are quickly fixed and good managers/owners are key in making sure their employees are well trained and problems are not repeated. Everyone can make a mistake and one employee can cause several violations so seeing your favorite restaurant have a violation should not turn you away for life. Thurston County’s Food Safety staff becomes concerned when a restaurant’s problems are not corrected and when they are repeated. On the other hand, there are many restaurants that work very hard to earn a clean inspection and they deserve recognition for their efforts.

For more information visit Thurston County’s Food Safety website.

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