Have you ever thought about what would happen if the health department came to your own kitchen and did a thorough inspection? I know that I would probably fail. I work in food service as the cafe manager and dietitian for a brand new corporate cafe, and we recently underwent our first health inspection. It was one of the most stressful moments I’ve experienced in a while even though we passed with flying colors. After going through it, I knew I wanted to educate the public on the experience, the incredible commitment to detail and the significance of the outcomes. Most importantly, I want you to think about how your own kitchen would measure up.
If you live in NYC, you have surely seen the letter grades posted on the front of every food establishment. They are usually a big blue “A”, sometimes a “B” or “grade pending” and rarely a “C”. These letters come from the Department of Health as a result of a health inspection. While these letters are meant to inform the consumers about the cleanliness and safety of an establishment, many people are unaware of their meaning and grading process.
The Grades: The NYC health inspection is scored on a numerical scale. Any score between 0-13 results in an A. A score between 14-27 gets you a B, and a score of 28 or more is a C. While 13 points may seem like lot of leadway, it’s not. The violations are scored as either critical–at least 5 points per violation–or general–at least 2 points per violation. Most critical violations are 7 points, meaning that two critical violations will result in a B. If an establishment fails to get an A on the first inspection, they do not have to post a grade and are eligible for re-inspection within a month. If they receive less than an A on the second inspection, they are required to either post the grade or “grade pending”, which means that the final grade will be determined by an “Administrative Tribunal”. Basically, passing a health inspection is tough.
The Violations: The amount of potential violations is intense, totalling more than 15 pages. I’m not going to list all the violations here, but I wanted to discuss some of the more common and worrisome critical violations that can result in 5+ points. Keep in mind that critical violations are one that contribute to food-borne illnesses. (That’s scary to think about in your own kitchen!)
Food not cooked to required minimum temperature. Do you like your burger medium rare? If you don’t use a food thermometer, and the meat isn’t the minimum temperature of 155F for ground beef, then it’s technically a violation. Minimum internal temperatures of meat are as follows:
Poultry: 165 F
Ground meat: 155 F
Steaks, seafood, roasts: 145 F
Fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes: 135 F
If you like your vegetables room temperature, that’s 7 points off your health inspection.
Hot food item not held at or above 140°F. You know when you make a casserole and take it out of the oven, serve it, and then let it sit while you eat? Then, maybe you go back for seconds 20 minutes later. If the temperature of that dish fell below 140 F, then that’s technically a violation. Oops.
Whole frozen poultry or poultry breasts, other than a single portion, are being cooked frozen or partially thawed. I know some people have definitely taken frozen chicken patties from the freezer and thrown them on the grill. Violation!
Cold food item held above 41°F except during necessary preparation. Just like you took your casserole out of the oven and left it on the counter while eating, you probably do the same thing with cold salads. If the temperature of that salad climbs above 41 F, that’s a violation.
Raw food not properly washed prior to serving. Don’t act like you haven’t bought an apple from a farmer’s market and eaten it a few minutes later. Produce needs to be properly washed.
Toxic chemical improperly labeled, stored or used so that contamination of food may occur. I’m the biggest culprit of leaving my cleaning spray out of the counter. I don’t spray it until after cooking, but it’s still in a spot that could cause food contamination
Evidence of mice or live mice present in facility’s food and/or non-food areas. Rodents are the worst, but sometimes they find their way in. Enough said.
Filth flies or food/refuse/ sewage-associated (FRSA) flies in facility’s food and/ or non-food areas. You know when you leave a banana out too long and get fruit flies and cannot get rid of them? Sorry, but that’s a violation.
Live animal other than fish in tank or service animal present in facility’s food and/or non-food areas. Do you have a dog or a cat? That’s a big no-no.
Tobacco use, eating or drinking from open container in food preparation, food storage or dishwashing area. If you smoke, you have bigger problems than a health inspection. But seriously, don’t smoke around food preparation areas.
So how did your own kitchen stack up? It’s not as easy as you think, and those are just a handful of the violations! Now you can go into a restaurant and know that they are doing everything possible to keep you safe.