Don’t you just love reading stories about how disgusting every single restaurant in the world is? It really makes you want to pile the whole family into the station wagon and drop a bunch of money on a meal that might be prepared in absolute filth behind closed doors, right?
1. ‘A’ Rating or Bust
So, my husband was a health inspector. Here are my two favorite stories:
He once did an inspection in a southern style place. While inspecting the fridge, he noticed they had cat food in there. Whiskas cat food. He was preparing to talk to the owner about not feeding strays, but instead she began talking about how she got a good deal on a pallet and no one could tell the difference. Yeah, she was using it in the tuna melt sand which. That place was known for its tuna melt. Second one: he got a complaint about a pizza delivery place. The complaint was that someone’s acrylic nail was on the pizza when it arrived. The person brought the fingernail to the health dept in a bag. It was ornate, painted with flowers, etc. he goes to the pizza place, begins explaining the situation to the manager. She says “uh huh, ain’t nobody around here lost their nail”. He looks at her hand and sees the other nine matching nails.
He says you should never eat anywhere with less than an A rating.
Not a health inspector, but someone in my city repainted their floor with non slip paint and literally painted over a dead rat, sealing it in there.
And to top it off, it was in the middle of the kitchen, not under a bench or anything similar.
3. “By his teeth”
Did food safety inspection at a large slaughterhouse for a while. We did our own inspections each shift and the government inspector stopped by once a day too.
One day, I came round a corner, and one of the workers who was running service for the butchers had dropped a ham on the floor. So, the proper way to handle this for him was to leave it there, and call for a re-inspector to come pick it up, take it out to carve off any contaminated bits and rinse it in boiling water.
Now it happened relatively often that meat was dropped on the floor, it’s just very very hard to avoid it when running in a factory setting with human labour. So this was common – what was uncommon was what the guy did.
First he tried catching it as it fell, which would’ve been fine – no contact with any surface and he could’ve just thrown it back into the tub it had fallen out of. He didn’t catch it though and it landed on the floor. Thinking that noone was watching, he tried picking it up, and dropped it again. He did this 3 times. So first and foremost he’s not supposed to be touching anything that’s been on the floor. It cross contaminates his hands and he has nowhere to put the contaminated product anyway. But he did this, 3 times, and dropped it 3 times(freshly carved hams can be slippery when wearing vinyl gloves). He then, out of pure frustration/annoyance at the unwieldy ham, dropped down on all fours, and proceeded to pick up the raw, freshly cut, 6 kilo ham – by his teeth. Stood up, ham dangling from his chompers – and dropped it into the tub with around 600kg of product – and drove off with the tub for processing.
He was fired a few minutes after that, and the entire tub of product discarded.
4. A Leak In The Celiling
My favorite Chinese restaurant got shut down. My ex-wife worked for the city and I asked her what was the deal. She said the health inspectors found something leaking from the ceiling. They lifted the ceiling tile and shined a flash light and saw multiple eyes staring back at them. Turns out, they were raising chickens in the ceiling and chicken crap was dripping in the food that I had been eating at least once a week.
My friend was inspecting a restaurant – walked out the back to find a man stirring a huge pot of curry. With his arm. No spoon or anything, just up to his hairy elbows in curry.
6. Escaped Cow
My stepdad used to be a baker in an authentic recreation of an 18th century New French fortress. Because they sell bread to the public, the health inspector came by, and she was ripping into my stepdad for violations like the stonework walls, the doorless entranceways, or the lack of a mosquito zapper. He pointed out that they were following the highest standards except for things that would destroy the authenticity of this 18th-century bakery. The health inspector relented and agreed to give him a pass after verifying the food storage area was secure. They went to the shed, which was a doorless building attached to the bakery. As the health inspector went in, there happened to be an escaped cow licking all of the loaves. My stepdad could only say, “Honestly, this never happens.”
They passed the health inspection.
7. Road Lobsters
My stepmother is the lead health inspector for a decent sized suburban town. While I have never asked what the worst thing she has witnessed as part of her job was, I do know of one instance that was pretty gross.
A truck full of lobsters was travelling down the highway and crashed. The police came, and eventually they towed the truck. As a board of health inspector my stepmother was consulted to see if any of the lobsters were viable and she told them no, the load is a total loss since there were literally lobsters scattered across the highway covered in dirt, sand, etc.
Fast forward 24hrs and one of the restaurants in town ran a special: twin lobsters for $19.99! Apparently the owner of the trucking/towing company knew the restaurant owner pretty well so they made a deal whereby the restaurant would pay a very discounted price for the ‘road lobsters’. The restaurant would turn around and illegally serve the lobsters to unsuspecting customers or sell them out of a truck behind behind the restaurant.
I’m not sure what the repercussions were but I think they were shut down for like a week. They closed shortly thereafter and now there’s a new restaurant there. The towing company lost their contract to tow vehicles/semi trucks with the town and state.
I was a dishwasher at a local restaurant for my first job at 16. One night we were cleaning up after closing as usual. I uncorked my sink just as we wrapped and left to do something else. As I stepped away, the waitress said, “You’re sink’s leaking.”
I turned around to find brown sludge pouring out of the bottom of the sink. Not just that one but also the sink in the food prep area. The whole kitchen flooded with what I soon discovered to be sewage, complete with poopy bits and toilet paper. It rose up so high I was literally ankle deep in crap.
The waitress bailed and called her ex-boyfriend, the cooks climbed like spidermen out of the kitchen, and my manager locked herself in her office. I stood alone, 16 years old working my first job, and ankle deep in poop with a squeegee in hand. I mopped that kitchen until past midnight.
When I got home, I walked in like I’d been blasted by napalm. The next morning my boss called me in early. The damn restaurant opened the next day and served food like there wasn’t poop everywhere. Hell, when I showed up there was still solid poop in the drains.
I quit soon after and didn’t return for a long time. When I finally did pass by the place was closed for health violations. I wonder why.
My uncle is a health inspector in rural Australia. He got several complaints about a fish n chips shop in a small town in Victoria, with reports of it being a bit grotty and people getting chunks of hair in their hot chips.
So he rocks up one day unannounced on a blazing hot day in the middle of summer, and the owner greets him and shows him around wearing a white singlet top with sweat patches under the arms, short shorts and no shoes. This guys body was covered in hair. Not just on his arms and chest, but his back and neck were like a werewolf. Clearly, this must be the source of the hair in the chips. My uncle decides to make a tactful comment about having wear appropriate clothes when working, so as to protect against hot oil burns.
10. Beef Soup
Not a health inspector but my mom used to work at this restaurant where the owner just did not care at all. It was a Mexican restaurant and my mom told me that once a lady came in asking for Caldo de res (beef soup) but they didn’t have anymore meat (at least not the one used for that dish). They were about to let the lady know when the owner stepped up and told the lady that her food would be right out. The server and my mom were both confused as to what she was going to do.
Well this lady goes and literally DIGS THROUGH THE TRASH and pulls out some beef (some still with bone) she then ran it through water, cooked it and served it to that poor lady. My mom says the lady was even sucking the bone and she almost felt sick watching. My mom quit that job soon after.
11. This guy is full of stories
Here are a couple I remember from her days as a restaurant inspector for the state health department.
– A complaint from a grocery store that the Chinese restaurant next door was raiding their dumpster each night and taking all the produce they could find.
– Walking into another Chinese restaurant and seeing pigeons in a cage in the back room. Just regular city pigeons. Asking, “You’re not serving these to the customers, are you?” and being told, “No, no. Those are just for us.”
I don’t mean to disparage Chinese people by citing two incidents about Chinese restaurants, but the truth is that many Chinese people come to the U.S. on a shoestring budget and cut corners as much as they can. Plus, the standards of healthy food service are often very strange to them. Telling someone that they can’t cut the lettuce for the salad bar with the same knife they just used to cut a raw chicken is like telling them they have to stand on their head before cooking something. They just don’t get it. They always did it this way at home.
Your body gets used to fighting off the bacteria you grow up with. People from the other side of the planet have bodies that can handle bacteria we aren’t used to in the midwest part of the U.S., but that’s a very hard point to get across.
Here’s one more from another side of the economic spectrum:
I have a friend who plays in a band which has some national recognition. (I won’t say any more, but they’ve had a few top ten hits.) He told me once that his band was booked to play a very expensive corporate New Years party for a very rich corporation. The party took place at a very swanky hotel in a big city.
He and the band had to load-in through the hotel restaurant kitchen. Unfortunately, the sewers had backed up and the entire kitchen of this swanky hotel restaurant was ankle-deep in raw sewage.
But there was no way the hotel manager was going to go out into the party room and explain to a host of $1000-a-plate diners that the kitchen was closed on New Years Eve, so the kitchen staff kept cooking and the waiters kept serving. (They put on rubber boots before entering the sewer/kitchen to grab the next plate.)
The moral of the story is that food service is all about the money first. Understandable because if there’s no money, there’s no food service. But you are just as likely to get food poisoning at the most expensive restaurant in town as you are at some local hole in the wall. Sometimes moreso because there’s more money at stake.
The company that my restaurant is under, does mandatory health inspections monthly and in extreme cases every 3 days. Anyway, my restaurant was known for having excellent scores for years. One day, a couple of the head honchos from corporate shoot me an email about a month ago asking for a meeting. I’m thinking “hell yeah, I’m getting a promotion! “.
Fast forward to the meeting, they ask me to takeover this other restaurant that has been having major issues with safety and sanitation. I agree because I’m seeing a big fat bonus and promotion for fixing this place.
Fast forward to 2 weeks ago. I walk in the back entrance to my new restaurant and immediately smell rotting food with a hint of vomit. I was going to do an inspection after I met the crew but after that smell, I decided to begin immediately. I take a walk to the dish room and find dirty dishes mixed with clean fishes, mold growing on the walls behind the dish rack, and a broken sanitizer dispenser.
I continue my walk into the walk-in, find mold growing in the walk in, food expired weeks ago, raw food sitting above cooked food, food stuck in the the cracks of the tile. I found about 4 inches of ice build up in the freezer, gluten free bread sitting on whole wheat.
I’m beyond pissed upon leaving the walkins and head straight to the kitchen. This is where I lost my mind. Nobody wearing gloves, the once white walls are covered in weeks of food build up, the can opener is rusted, the prep sink drain has maggots in it, raw food was just sitting at a prep station with no worker present and without a time label, cutting boards were broken and still being used (incorrectly might I add), temperatures weren’t being recorded, cold rail was a disgusting mess, and I could go on.
I called the head honchos and told them I wanted to close the location for at least a week to clean and fix this place. They gave me 3 days to do it. So I closed the restaurant that same day before we opened and gave them a ‘stern’ talking to. We ended up spending all three days working 12-15 hours a day deep cleaning everything.
Currently, the restaurant is in a lot better shape and can actually pass a health audit. I’m still working on teaching the crew good habits.