I really hate when the media gets involved in this topic. One of our local TV news "investigative reports' reporters has done a series of segments on how unsanitary many of the local restaurants are. I have found most of this reporting sensationalistic, to the point of becoming tabloid style reporting. These people will look at a restaurants sanitation report (in chicago they must be on view to the public somewhere in the restaurant), then they will harp on some point where the restaurant failed, blowing the situation way out of control. Yes, I believe that the public should be made aware of certain situations, but too many times this this type of reporting becomes too sensationalistic. This article doesn't really approach that level of reporting, but it also doesn't tell the whole story and leaves its readers with a statement born of the desire for shock value, and in my opinion, not very professional journalism.
It pays to have a good relationship with your local health inspector. They can always find a reason to shut you down. Many older buildings have a rodent infestation problem, even moreso if you're on the ground floor or basement. Most restaurants within 50 feet of a waterway have seen rodent infestation at some time or other. Almost nothing can be done in this case, you chase those critters away and your neighbor chases them back. Improperly stored food can be as simple as mislabled food. If your only DMO walks across to the other side of the conveyer machine and touches the silverware before washing and sanitizing his hands you all of a sudden have unsanitized silverware.
Sometimes you try your best bet lack of capital resources forces you to do certain things. Not everyone can have a DMO running dishes through at one end of the machine and another with sanitized hands at the other end stacking them on the rack to air dry, especially not if you're doing 90 covers a night.
The three previous replies have me perplexed. Obviously they came from professionals and I'm certainly not, so I know that my opinions carries less weight....
That being said, I'm uncomfortable with the idea that inspectors or management themselves should look the other way. I'm quite certain that sanitation and pest control are uphill battles, but if you cannot maintain levels within the law, perhaps you should look elsewhere for work. Detergent and proper storage cutting too deep into your bottom line? Take out a loan or take out a "for sale" sign. I know patrons confronted with these facts look elsewhere for service, it's just that they often don't know.
Crimes happen everyday, especially in large cities. But that doesn't mean that citizens or the police should overlook these indiscretions. Food cookery is foremost on the kitchen's mind but for goodness sakes if Todd English can't take some of the money he earned from that ridculous Iron Chef spin-off and set out some traps/bait/poison, then get that guy outta there!
I don't care if the rat turds were blessed by Jesus, Buddha and Shiva while dancing the Virginia Reel with Ghandi, they are unacceptable in an eating establishment!
How to say this without coming off as holier than thou, because it is not my intention, but still get the point across. Yes, the law should be obeyed. That being said, lets draw a small analogy. How often do you go 1 mph over the speed limit? How often do you keep an "improper" following distance (the proper distance is a 2 second interval). How often do you not take your foot off the gas pedal when the light turns yellow? Do you expect to get pulled over and given a ticket for these infractions?
There is a difference between living in the real world and "looking the other way." Say for instance you have a cooler that is running 4 degrees over what it should "legally" be at. You call in a repair man, the freon is low, he puts some in and goes on his merry way. A week later, it's still 4 degrees over, repair man comes again, replaces a part. A week later, it's still 4 degrees over, so you go ahead and buy a new cooler. As a business owner, according to your standards, he should be fined for trying to save himself thousands of dollars. By the way, the cost, in the end, gets passed on to the customer. It's a give and take. Yes, most restaurants try very hard to adhere to the law, but taking a point of view that adhereing to that law is easy as pie isn't exactly fair.
Should the restaurant have been shut down? Probably so. Will you ever dine in a restaurant that has NO infractions at all? Probably not.
Heh, your point is certainly well taken. Regardless of how hypocritical I am, if I break the law I am well aware of the consuequences. I have gotten a speeding ticket (one) before and I certainly did not agrue ***** or moan about it because it was my fault. The officer was actually very appreciative of my demeanor. Had my speeding caused an accident I would have been not only fined, but sued and held liable for damages beyond just my own.
Likewise, if you have unsanitary conditions in your resto, you should not be surprised to be written up for your violation. And your patrons should be made fully aware of those facts. If you are doing 90, 200, 500 covers a night it behooves you to make sure that the patrons have a safe eating enviroment. If you are unable to do that, you should also be held liable for the results, whther that is a fine, paying for food-poisoning damages or suffer being shut down.
I understand that it's a sysiphian task to manage sanitation and food-safety and I'm quite certain that I'm eating in establishments with far from perfect records. However, getting upset that a place is cited or shut down for infractions is irresponsible. Wonder what Mr. English's response as when he heard?
Even if you are cited for violations, you could still be providing your patrons with a safe eating environment. Just not as safe as the ideal -- which, by the way, is determined neither by scientists nor by professional restaurateurs, but by legislative staff with no expertise or agency staff with too little expertise because the best-educated people can't earn a living in government at that level.
No one here is saying that it's okay to have feces in the food; but you get in trouble if you use some of the solutions that are acceptable to laypeople. It is a no-win situation. I don't know what the laws are in Boston, but in New York City it is a violation to have poison and many kinds of traps/bait out there in your kitchen. Andrew, do you see the Catch-22 here?
I am not, and I doubt anyone else is, "upset" that such a high-profile place has gotten in trouble. What I object to is that it becomes "news," as though a celebrity should be held to higher standards. If that were true in, say, movies or pop music, who would be left on the outside??
And no, Andrew, there is NO "Regardless of how hypocritical I am" here. Speeding can cause accidents; in your case it didn't -- you were lucky, that's all. A certain level of sanitation violation could cause a food-borne illness; the vast majority of cited infractions don't, even cumulatively. So please do not excuse yourself while continuing to rail. Restaurateurs do not want to break the law, and we do not look the other way when they are caught. Neither do we think that inspectors should do anything other than enforce the regs. But we live with reality every day. When you do, too, and when you know ALL the regs, you can let us know what you think.
You seen to have missed my point entirely. I am all for closing a restaurant that is in serious violation of health codes. It only takes being shut down for a few days to wake chefs and owners up to their responsibility to the public. What gets me is the rash of sensationalistic news coverage for "the blantant disregard for santitation plaguing our restaurants". This is hype, and sensationalistic journalism at its worst. The media (as they do so well) use scare tactics to get people to buy the papers or tune in to their newscasts. To give you an example: I had a health inspector come in one day about 9:30am. The first place he headed for was the cooler. Now legally food must be kept at 41 degrees. Well, I had been recieveing lots of orders (it was a heavy order day) and my day cooks had been in and out all morning getting the prep work done and the line ready for lunch. When he looked at my cooler and took a temp reading it was only 48 degrees. He told me that I had to throw everything out, as my cooler was not a proper temp. He and I argued (this was going to cost us thousands of dollars in product, not to mention a loss of sales since I wouldn't have any product) finally I convinced him that he needed to take a reading of internal temps of some products to prove my point. Of course everything was fine, and he begrudingly admitted that I was right. Of course, for the rest of the inspection he looked even harder than he normally would, just trying to catch little things. He succeeded, but not enough to give me a failing grade. But of course he mentioned the cooler in his report, though I didn't recieve any point deduction for it. Now, we have to post this report where guests can see it. It doesn't make us look good in their eyes even though everything was fine. Add on top of this an overzealous "Investigative Reporter" and you have a PR nightmare on your hands. This has been happening in Chicago recently. These people are playing with the livelyhoods of many people, for the sake a story and ratings. Plus the more hysteria this type of journalism creates the more the government feels it needs to crack down. Right now Americans can't enjoy many of the great European products because they don't meet our standards. Some states don't allow restaurants to serve over-easy eggs. Many states require warnings be placed at places where raw seafood is consumed, and I am just waiting for the day that they try to ban it.
Pete- Thanks for a good response that illustrated nicely the enigmatic health inspector-proprietor relationship. It definitely helped me understand the issues that the professionals face on a regular basis.
Suzanne- Didn't feel like I was on my high-horse, but your comments are duely noted. I was simply trying to express my view as a customer of what I would expect for handing over my cash. If you felt I was out of line and unfairly criticising, then I shall certainly consider my words more carefully in the future.
Thanks to all who have written with their well-formed responses.
You have no idea.... the very fabric of space and time are ripped apart by a very small vortex over by the KA stand mixer. It's great for accessing ingredients from different planetary epochs, but the random abominations of nature that sometimes elak through would surely be against any and every health-code law.
As I write, the damned souls of a thousand Hitlers have snuck through and are putting on an impromptu version of "Annie" in the Nutella jar. Their singing isn't so bad, but they have a horrible delivery on their lines.
That's a very good point. Here's an example of how assinine these rules can get. We're required to have a bucket of sanitizing rinse for our towels. Well, good, so I try to be nice and clean and have four of them. This is done first thing each shift right? The health inspector walks in in the morning and sticks an indicator strip into each bucket, then she proceeds to do her normal thing. Since we were a big kitchen, it took her 2.5 hours to walk the whole place. When she came back she stuck another indicator strip in each of the buckets and it turns out that the pH had changed and the solution needed to be changed. Well, that was a critical violation MULTILPLIED 4 TIMES! I just shrugged and said OK, from now on, only one sanitation bucket.
I've also been written up for a non-working lightbulb, improper doorseals, rinse water too hot, garbage bin overflowing and not closed (even though garbage pickup was today), cracked tile in entry doorway, hollandaise not hot, hollandaise not cold, and a bunch of other BS I musta blocked out.
My personal favorite is getting busted for butter not at 41 degrees. I am sorry, but during service I leave the butter out so that it is not rock hard for our customers (I hate trying to spread rock hard butter onto bread. Well, it must be tossed out. Also for making creme fraiche which must set out at room temp to sour and thicken. Even though I know how to make it, since I couldn't provide the Health Inspector with a written recipe documenting that it must sit at room temp it had to be thrown out.
Amw5g, I understand where you are coming from. To people who don't know, a health violation is a health violation and can be a cause for alarm. And I agree, you should be aware of the places you eat, and should be informed about their general sanitation so that you can make an informed decision. I love the little taco stands all over Chicago, but I can't imagine how nasty those kitchens are. If I get sick after eating at one of them, I write it off as I should have known better, but at least I made the decision to put myself in jeapordy. I would be very upset if I was at a 3 star restaurant and their food made me sick. Again it is the hype surrounding this topic that p***es me off.
Seems Chicago is undergoing the same media sanitation nightmare that L.A. underwent a few years ago... we had an investigative team from a local station
that had hidden cameras in kitchens of some of the more well known places around town. Unfortunately they captured some really rotten health violations
(one place in particular had guys scratching themselves and eating the food
they were preparing all in glorious close up) and created a huge furor and public outcry. The station ran this footage every day for weeks along with a listing of restaurants who had been cited for violations and it became a big thing to tune in at 6:00 to see who had been shut down.
It caused an entire restructuring of the Health Dept. along with many new codes- all for the public good, I well admit. We now have an alphabet system based on a score of 100 pts. A is 100 -90, B is 89-80, etc.
These scores are posted at the entrance of every restaurant - failure to post is a fine. What makes it difficult for operators is that the violations keep changing, as the code becomes more strict. Things that were never an issue
(let's say milk crate in the kitchen) now is 2 pts. off your score.
If the inspector shows up when you're particulary slammed, and the cream's at 44 degrees,your sanitation buckets P.H. is off (I know that one Kuan), there's mold at the bottom of the drain of the ice machine, and at the bar, a fruit fly was found in the 3/4 empty bottle of 99 Bananas that hasn't been touched in 6 months, you're now looking at a B rating.
And now word gets around town that you're an "unsanitary restaurant" all thanks to the media which has heightened the awareness. The Health Dept. dosen't consider you unsanitary, but the public does, and most people here have issues going to a B restaurant.
It's a two edged sword -public health is utmost in our minds and chefs and operators spend a lot of money to comply. But I also feel in this germaphobic, antibacterial media frenzied society, people are losing their grip on what's real and important out there. The fact that most people would rather eat genetically altered, chemically enhanced, irradiated food rather than a nice plate of roasted peppers that had been sitting out for an hour, or an unpasturized, artisinal cheese, bugs the s**t out of me!
I will tell a funny story though. A few years back, I was in NYC at a little pastry shop on the Lower East Side. Having recently taken my 8 hr food certificaton course in L.A., I had to inquire about the cheesecakes that were sitting out, unrefrigerated, uncovered on the counter. "Excuse me" I said to the counterman, "how long have these cakes been sitting here?" He looked at me like I was nuts and said "Forever - that's where we always keep the cheesecakes!"
The worst thing you can is attack a health inspector's judgement, as I stated earlier. You really want to make friends with these people as much as possible. Yes, that means swallowing your pride, yes, that means listening to someone who knows absolutely nothing about food. And then you have to AGREE with them. If not, they can make your life a living ****, and believe me, I have met health inspector's that are not above being vindictive. On the other hand, if you befriend them they can be a wealth of knowledge about health codes and what changes are going to take place in the upcoming months. I also guarnetee that the nicer you are to them, the less you will see them or another city employee. Trust me on this one. Once, when I was an Exec. Sous chef at this older restaurant, I made friends with the health inspector that covered my area. We became so chummy one time he told me that if I wanted any new equipment such as stoves or coolers (our stuff was really old) just say the word, and he would give it an extremely detailed inspection that he was sure wouldn't pass. Needless to say, I passed on that one. I sure didn't need to get involved in that.