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Do you look at Health Dept. scores?

Do you check out the Health Dept. scores before you go to a restaurant? I live in south Florida and the asian restaurants many times are at the top of the list for bad scores.....What gives ? I love the food, but my gosh, I'm scared to eat it.
I went to one of the Guy Fieri "dives" a week ago. It grossed me out what was happening before my eyes.

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  1. I was in south Fl recently not that that has anything to do with it and was searching restaurants. Ended up getting a google hit for the Health Dept scores. Got into looking up many the top restaurants. They all had violations. The more I looked the more I knew that violations are a part of the business. How they manage them is the key.

    2 Replies
    1. re: scubadoo97

      Florida happens to have pretty transparent reporting on restaurant inspections. While every restaurant gets a report for for every inspection, and minor violations are not unusual (i.e., food containers not labeled, no proof of employee training posted, etc.), obviously some violations are more significant (and gross) than others.

      I wouldn't want the statement "They all had violations" to be interpreted as suggesting that all South Florida restaurants are health hazards. That's clearly not the case.


      1. re: Frodnesor

        I agree, my comment was aimmed at restaurants in general not just in Fla. Hope I made that clear. I have nothing against Florida. I was born, raised and live in Fla.

    2. Don't know what the criteria are in Florida, but in most places the restaurant will get gigged for the kind of housekeeping we all do at home: storage of cleaning chemicals near food prep areas or near food storage, washing hands in the dish sink or prep sink, wet towels hanging over sinks...and let's not get started on animals in the kitchen! That'd get any restaurant shut down right now. If the LA County health inspectors could drop in on me and see the dog with her nose in the trash bag under the work table, Mrs. O washing her hands next to the open bowl of cut vegetables, me using my forefinger (repeatedly!) as a tasting spoon, all while preparing food for a mob of family and friends... I don't think they have a Z rating, do they?

      Back when I was eatin' buddies with a Palo Alto girl whose favorite food was Chinese, we made a habit of parking behind a restaurant if possible and coming in through the kitchen. Her view was that the more horrifying a hellhole the kitchen was, the better the food would be. That was not strictly true, but the sparkly-clean ones did always have boring food. Probably just a coincidence...

      1 Reply
      1. re: Will Owen

        Reminds me of Sam Wo in SF's Chinatown. An unbelievable dive of a place where you walked thru the kitchen to get to the rickety stairs going to the eating areas on the second and third floors. There to be greeted -- no, confronted -- by their infamous waiter whatsisname.

      2. I don't actively seek them out, but there are food reporters on the local news that give you run-downs of violators, as well as a couple local food blogs that keep you informed. My husband use to work with restaurants and got to see the kitchens. Now there are some places that I really did like, but he said no way, and it wasn't over something small. Also, like scubadoo said, it depends on how quickly they respond and how many times they have had violations. Sometimes they just have a bad night and that is when the Inspector shows up.

        1. I think it should also be said that the nature of the violation is important, which is why I like to be where the results of inspections are publicly posted (they did this in Nashville, for instance). Repeated incidents of improper storage temperatures or chronic rat/roach infestations beats the hell out of keeping detergent under the prep sink.

          1. In my experience it's a matter of who's inspecting, some will let you correct minor infraction right there and never write it down, then there are some who will write volumes about a small spider web under a shelf in dry storage. I used them as another "pair of eyes" to get something we may have missed.

            1. The City of Toronto has a pretty transparent inspection system, where the results of inspections are posted at the door and on a searchable website. I don't always check, unless I hear an unsavory rumor on our board (when I catch them before they are promptly deleted by the mods) or have other reasons to find a place suspect. But a couple of years ago, we took a friend to a restaurant for his birthday - he really enjoyed it and promptly gave it a place on his list of go-to spots. A little while later, I heard some (completely anecdotal and thoroughly unverified) rumors on here about the place and looked up their inspection record. It was...spotty. So the next time my friends decided to go there, I politely told them I would meet up with them after dinner. But ever since, I've struggled with whether I should have told them why - while I don't want them to get sick, some people really follow the ignorance-is-bliss doctrine, and it feels more than a little bit Grinchy to tell them one of their favorite places is not as clean as I (or the City) would like it to be. My parents' former neighbor is a DC health inspector, and once walked in to inspect a place in the middle of the lunch rush. She found enough severe infractions that she had to immediately shut them down, and several patrons asked if they could just finish their lunches first.

              6 Replies
              1. re: Wahooty

                The neg I look for is "food held at improper temperature," as I think this has the greatest possibility of producing food-borne illness.

                1. re: pikawicca

                  And anything involving the words "inadquate pest control." Because that gives me major heebie-jeebies.

                  1. re: Wahooty

                    "Inadequate pest control" can mean the front door was propped open when the inspector walked up.

                    "Held at improper temperature" is the one that can kill you.

                    1. re: Cathy

                      In Florida they are much more specific than "inadequate pest control". They will count the rodent droppings and tell you exactly where they found them.

                      1. re: Frodnesor

                        Yeah, I think here it can probably mean a wide variety of things, but too often it's something far worse than propping a door. Skeeves me out enough to make it hard to enjoy a meal.

                      2. re: Cathy

                        "inadequate pest control" can mean the front door was propped open when the inspector walked up.

                        Yes and it could also mean there have been rodent droppings in the kitchen area. In one case 'inadequate pest control' meant that one of the cooks found that a rat had accidentally landed in the fryer where the chicken was being deep fried. Luckily the cook found it before it went to the customer.

                2. I wish I could check out the local scores. Our local Dept of Health doesn't post them anywhere easy to
                  find. Not online, and they're not posted visibly in restaurants. We have a "fancy" restaurant locally that seems to produce a lot of reports of food poisoning...I'd love to know how they do with food temps.

                  1. No. Ignorance is bliss.

                    But I do check their score if I suspect food poisoning. Once DH and I had a really bad case of food poisoning from a bakery that has two locations. And, please, no lectures on you can't really pinpoint the source of food poisoning -- due to eating the stuff over a few days, I can say with 99% accuracy that the source of food poisoning was from the bakery. I even called them and they pretty much knew what I was talking about and apologized to me. I checked the scores of the bakery in question. Abysmal. As the first bakery was part of a larger food court, I checked the scores of the other restaurants in the food court to see if it was part of a larger issue. Nope. Other scores were fine. I checked the scores of the bakery's other location. That was fine too. So it seems that there was a serious problem in that location only. So I won't be going there again.

                    Sometimes you can get ill from eating at an establishment where it's an isolated incident. If I get ill eating at a place but the scores are decent (and I realize that even the most upscale, seemingly clean restaurants will have a few infractions -- I'm not expecting perfection), I will chalk it up to having it been an isolated incident or thinking that it could have been something else (eg. flu) and will most likely return. But if the place in question has terrible scores, I probably will never go back again.

                    1. As an employee of an organization involved with food safety I can honestly say food inspection scores are not a simple matter, and I can also say they definitely mean something. The important thing to remember is that they are a picture of that moment when the inspector was there. Things could have been much better or much worse just hours before or after an inspection.

                      As several others have mentioned there are some violations more serious than others and more likely to have an impact on public health, i.e. food held at improper temperatures. If this is a violation that you see repeated at a restaurant from inspection to inspection I probably would not eat there. Cross contamination is another biggie.

                      1. While I agree that sometimes ignorance is bliss, Toronto's system is quite transparent (as Wahooty noted above) and you can't really ignore the signs in the windows. A Green sign = Pass, Yellow = Conditional and of course Red = Closed. One day I was going to pick up an order I had phoned in at a favourite spot and came face to face with a yellow sign in their window (yellow signs are rarely seen because the inspectors will usually return in a few days and will give them a green if noted problems have been corrected). When I got home, I checked the City's website and found many, many violations going back a couple of years. That kind of ruined my appetite and I didn't really order much from there again.

                        1. Occasionally I look at them if I'm going to a real hole-in-the-wall dive. But I don't know why I continue judge a book by the cover, so to say and never check the high-end restaurants. I'm always shocked when I look at the scores in general because it seems there is ALWAYS at least one higher profile/$$$ restaurant on the questionable side.

                          1. I don't generally seek out health food scores. There's a couple of places I love and I'm sure they would have some violations but I got curious about a local chinese takeout place I used to go to (which shall remain nameless.) I stopped going when I saw that they stored uncooked chicken in a plastic bowl under the cooking surface and would dish it out with the same utensil they were cooking with. The idea of the chicken sitting there for who knows how long grossed me out and the food was not good enough to ignore it.
                            I live in Florida too and checked their last inspection report. They "met inspection standards" during their last review even though they had 8 critical violations, including 2 repeats. One of the repeat critical violations was storing raw food OVER cooked food. If you can repeat on something like that and still meet standards, I don't think I have a lot of faith in Florida inspections.

                            1. Oregon has a great, searchable Health Dept Review website. I got the link from our local food blog.

                              Generally, I go through it to see how places I've been to are doing. There are just so many factors involved in food service that I was completely unaware of.

                              1. NO, I don't check health department scores. I have a low opinion og government inspectors in all fields who have the ability to shake down a business in exchange for a 'good' report.

                                Years ago, I was in the food business, and a competing establishment paid the inspector to issue a bad report on us. Unfortunately they got caught. The insoection was dated during our annual midwinter shutdown.

                                1. We have a letter grading system posted at the front of the establishment. For me

                                  A = yes
                                  B = probably OK
                                  C = I don't think so

                                  but I know lots of folks who eat at C places

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: laliz

                                    We had a comeuppance of sorts yesterday: went to the Noodle House, tiny little hole-in-the-stripmall joint. Had an incredible meal, under $25 for four of us, and the placard on the door proclaimed its A rating! Amazing...

                                  2. Yep! I check them all-Chinese, high end, popular local joints-definitely can't judge a book by its cover. Luckily, in NC the inspections online are very detailed and archived. I don't freak out over every infraction but foods held at improper temp, roaches, and things of that nature do scare me. Like Wahooty, I strolled into a favorite spot for takeout and saw a C rating( I think a 72). Promptly strolled out and later checked out the inspection online and it wasn't pretty!