Many people dream of opening up their own restaurant. Entrepreneur reports that about 40 years ago, there were only around 150,000 food service establishments in the United States, and today, there are around 1 million. The restaurant industry generates $683.4 billion in annual sales. To open up a successful restaurant, an entrepreneur has to have knowledge of business, finance, communications, marketing, branding, and, of course, food.
Many restaurant owners are successful. These owners find a target market, find their style and niche, develop an effective business plan, collect and save up enough capital, choose a great location, and hire excellent employees to serve food that’s safe and delicious. Everything — from their menu to their decor — is planned strategically, and customers enjoy going out to eat at their establishment.
Other restaurants have something missing from the equation. Sometimes, it’s competent staff, but oftentimes, that something is food safety. Most people have noticed those “grades” posted on restaurant windows or walls. Those grades are from the Health Department, and they are there for you to read, in detail. Depending on your location, you may be able to view the entire report at the restaurant you’re visiting. If not, it should be available on your local health department’s website.
Each location is different, but according to the New York City Health Department: “Since July 2010, the Health Department has required restaurants to post letter grades showing sanitary inspection results. Restaurants with a score between 0 and 13 points earn an A, those with 14 to 27 points receive a B and those with 28 or more a C. Inspection results are posted on the Health Department’s website.”
What’s that grade mean?
You should know that a restaurant does not have to receive a perfect score to receive an “A” grade. In New York City, for instance, a restaurant simply needs to have less than 13 points’ worth of of violations, and the company has “two chances to earn an A in every inspection cycle.”
In South Carolina, an “A” grade means the following: “The food service establishment earned 88-100 points. Its sanitation and food safety practices scored appeared to be in the ‘acceptable to very good’ range during DHEC’s unannounced routine inspection.”
The Los Angeles County Public Health Department requires that restaurants earn a score of at least 90. How do they achieve that score?
According to inspection reports, various amounts of points are assigned to offenses. A restaurant could receive a two-point penalty for vermin (like cockroaches or rodents), depending on the nature and severity of the problem. On the other hand, if a restaurant has a major vermin infestation or has an issue with keeping foods at the correct temperatures — which can, of course, make people sick — for instance, these are much more serious violations.
All in all, if a restaurant has a past or present score that’s lower than an “A,” exercise extreme caution before eating at that establishment. Also, if a restaurant’s report is available, read it in its entirety.
Here are a few restaurants that have been forced to shut down for safety violations or for other reasons.
1. Mrs. Chen’s Chinese Restaurant, an award-winning buffet in Sarasota, Florida
This Chinese buffet that was once voted the best restaurant in Sarasota, but it was shut down for health code violations earlier this year, according to News 10 reports. On April 7, the health inspector found 28 health code violations within the buffet — nine basic violations, 13 intermediate violations, and six high-priority violations, which follow (taken directly from the online report):
- “All potentially hazardous (time/temperature control for safety) foods in reach-in cooler cold held at greater than 41 degrees Fahrenheit.”
- “Employee touched soiled apron/clothes and then engaged in food preparation, handled clean equipment or utensils, or touched unwrapped single-service items without washing hands.”
- “Potentially hazardous (time/temperature control for safety) food found greater than 70 degrees Fahrenheit and less than 135 degrees Fahrenheit more than four hours.”
- “Roach activity present as evidenced by live roaches found. Observed 5 live roaches in kitchen cook line under buckets containing soy sauce.”
- “Shell eggs held at room temperature with an ambient air temperature greater than 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Observed shell eggs at room temperature 79°F.”
- “Stop Sale issued due to adulteration of food product. Observed chicken , beef in walk in cooler under leaking AC UNIT.”
The restaurant was ordered to stop operations until all violations were corrected. The restaurant has since reopened.
2. Penn Plaza shutdown: Columbo Yogurt, Taco Bell, Nathans, Tim Horton, Pizza Hut
In December 2013, this group of restaurants was shut down by the New York City Health Department. This was troubling to many consumers, as most of these restaurants are nationwide, household names. According to the December Health Department report, the restaurants — which are grouped together in a food court-type setup — had the following sanitary violations:
- “Hot food item not held at or above 140º F.”
- “Filth flies or food/refuse/sewage-associated (FRSA) flies present in facility’s food and/or non-food areas. Filth flies include house flies, little house flies, blow flies, bottle flies and flesh flies. Food/refuse/sewage-associated flies include fruit flies, drain flies and Phorid flies.”
- “Personal cleanliness inadequate. Outer garment soiled with possible contaminant. Effective hair restraint not worn in an area where food is prepared.”
- “Facility not vermin proof. Harborage or conditions conducive to attracting vermin to the premises and/or allowing vermin to exist.”
- “Pesticide use not in accordance with label or applicable laws. Prohibited chemical used/stored. Open bait station used.”
The restaurant had 23 violation points altogether during the December inspection, and this was not the first time this establishment had scored this poorly. In November 2013, the establishment received 45 violation points, and in March 2012, the restaurant bundle received 25 points.
Upon re-inspection this May, the restaurant received an “A” grade, but it still had 9 violation points.
3. Big L’s BBQ and “More”
Big L’s BBQ and More was a local Louisville area eatery. This establishment had good reports from the health department, and it also had decent reviews from consumers. Although the food and menu were good, the restaurant had illegal activity going on behind the scenes. Lawrence Jones Jr. (aka Big L) was allegedly using the business to deal drugs: marijuana, cocaine, and pills.
According to WLKY, “Police said their search of a Preston Highway restaurant uncovered marijuana, cocaine, pills and cash.” Perhaps that’s what the “more” in the restaurant’s name meant.
Wherever you eat outside of your home, keep in mind how careful you are in your own house when feeding yourself and your family. If you don’t feel comfortable and confident that an establishment will care for your food properly, you probably shouldn’t eat there. And, if you intend on opening up a restaurant now or in the future, you have to plan on providing safety and security to your customers.