What’s the Score? Inspecting Your Food’s Safety

10003043I experienced food poisoning several years ago.  I can tell you it’s something I never want to relive. Did you know there are over 250 different organisms that can cause food poisoning? People infected with foodborne organisms may be symptom-free or may have symptoms ranging from mild intestinal discomfort to emesis, bloody diarrhea, and severe dehydration. Depending on the type of infection, food poisoning can even be life-threatening. To help reduce my chances of food poisoning, I always review the restaurant health score before dining.

What’s a health score, you ask? Local public health departments regularly inspect restaurants to make sure they are in compliance and follow safe food handling procedures. Local laws regulate how frequently these inspections take place and what specific items the inspectors are looking for. The main focus for environmental health inspectors is to check that safeguards are in place to protect food from contamination by food handlers, cross-contamination, and other sources in the restaurant. Some examples of what the inspectors look for include ensuring employees regularly wash their hands in a sink equipped with soap, hot water and paper towels; utensils and surfaces that contact raw meat are not used to prepare ready-to-eat foods; and that rodents and other pests are not present.

The Health Department has developed an inspection report and scoring system to implement food safety. After conducting an inspection of a food facility, the health inspector will calculate a score based on the violations they observed. Violations can fall into three categories (information courtesy of the San Francisco Department of Public Health):

  • High Risk: Violations that directly relate to the transmission of food borne illnesses, the adulteration of food products, and the contamination of food-contact surfaces.
  • Moderate Risk: Violations that are of a moderate risk to the public health and safety.
  • Low Risk: Violations that are low risk or have no immediate risk to the public health and safety.

Which category a restaurant falls into is based on a food safety score based on the violations observed:
>90 = Good

  • Typically only lower-risk health and safety violations observed
  • May have high-risk violations

86-90 = Adequate

  • Several violations observed
  • May have high-risk violations

71-85 = Needs Improvement

  • Multiple violations observed
  • Typically several high-risk violations

Less than or equal to 70 – Poor

  • Multiple violations observed
  • Typically several high-risk violations

These reports can be ordered from your local health department, and many local health departments are now making these reports available online so consumers can make educated choices on where to eat. Restaurants and other food establishments are also required to post their inspection report in a clearly visible place to the general public and patrons of the establishment.

Is it safe to eat at your chosen restaurant? Before taking that first bite, it’s never a bad idea to take a good look at the posted health score!

Articles referenced:

“Restaurant Inspections In Your Area.” www.foodsafetynews.com. October 22, 2013.

“Food Safety Program: Restaurant Safety Scores.” www.sfdph.org. October 22, 2013

2 Comments on “What’s the Score? Inspecting Your Food’s Safety

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