Why we won’t be publishing passing restaurant health re-inspections

Caleb J. Spivakfailed health inspection, restaurants16 Comments

restaurant report card ~ what now, atlanta?

The first inspection is random.

The second is planned and prepared for.

The Porter Beer Bar in Little Five Points failed their restaurant health inspection earlier this year, launching our “Failed Restaurant Health Inspections” column.

What Now Atlanta readers felt that, because the beer bar passed their re-inspection with a 99 a week later, an update should be posted.

We disagreed.

But in all fairness, we thought we’d entertain the idea, or at least learn the process for restaurant health inspections.

Since we’re not experts, we spoke to one.

Public Information Officer, April Majors, was our contact for the Fulton County Environmental Health Services Department (a division of the Health Department).

What Now Atlanta learned that the first inspection is a true inspection because it’s random and the second is not because it’s planned for, according to Majors.

Therefore, it is our contention that failing the first time is newsworthy and passing the re-inspection is not.

Passing the second time is like failing a real estate licensing exam the first time, and then on the second attempt, the instructor lets you use the answer key (and it’s not even a pop quiz– it’s scheduled).

“Restaurants that fail their first inspection are given a specific date on when the Environmental Health Services Department will re-inspect them,” said Majors. “For those restaurants that want to remain open, they usually pass the second time.”

What is considered a failing score changes from one health inspector to the next, but Majors said the industry standard is that “anything below a 70 is failing.”

Failing once or twice won’t shut the restaurant down but the county does require those restaurants to take mandatory classes to clean up their act, Majors added.

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Caleb J. SpivakWhy we won’t be publishing passing restaurant health re-inspections

16 Comments on “Why we won’t be publishing passing restaurant health re-inspections”

  1. WOFOC

    If you fail an inspection, you fail an inspection…crap on new rules..blah blah blah…if the local Ihop, Starbucks, whatever can pass…first try, than why not The Porter. They have someone who
    worked in a restaurant that you could have eaten off the floor (Seegers).

    They got lazy…like many other restaurants, probably have…shame on them.

    Glad to see they passed the 2nd time, maybe this was a wake up call to all.

    Does it make them bad, ….nah…. just got caught.

  2. Trini

    Passing a second inspection may not mean much, but it is the one and only thing a restaurant can do to try to make up for its errors in the first inspection.

    I’m not in food service, but I have been reading these reports and finding that the criteria for failure appears wildly varied. If you’re going to report these failures, it takes very little to include a footnote about which restaurants have managed to get it together since last time, even with a disclaimer that mentions exactly what you’ve said above. Otherwise, pubicising the failures without giving these businesses any opportunity to redeem even a shred of their reputation with your readers is irresponsible and where once you may simply have reported on restaurant closures and failures, you’ll now have a hand in causing them.

    If your blog is going to continue in this cold and mean-spirited direction, I will have no choice but to stop reading it in future to prevent myself from condemning businesses that, while certainly very guilty, may well have just had a shitty day. I hope you’ll reconsider. I’m interested in what’s coming and going in the city, but not if the tone is one that revels in the failure of local entrepreneurs.

  3. Neighbor Jeff

    I’m with Trini…if you are going to call out restaurants for failing a Food Facility Inspection, please do some reporting and let us know why they failed. Then, we can all make informed choices. Personally, I’m not going to stop patronizing a restaurant because they didn’t keep a “cooling log” or a “conspicuous thermometer”, but the fact that food-contact surfaces were “not sanitized” might.

    Better yet, report their inspection history:

    Inspection date: February 11, 2011: Score: 99, Grade: A
    Inspection date: February 3, 2011: Score: 65, Grade: U
    Inspection date: March 25, 2010: Score: 93, Grade: A
    Inspection date: March 18, 2010: Score: 80, Grade: B

    Establishment Name: The Porter

    2-1C Observed bare hand contact of ready-to-eat food by employee New Violation.
    2-2B Observed an open beverage container on a food preparation table or over/next to clean equipment/utensils. New Violation.
    4-2B Food-contact surfaces and utensils not sanitized properly after cleaning. New Violation.
    6-1C Potentially hazardous foods cooled without a cooling log to document proper cooling times and temperatures New Violation.
    11D No conspicuously located thermometer in holding unit. New Violation.
    12A Observed scoops without handles stored in food product New Violation.
    12C Wet wiping cloth not stored in sanitizing solution between uses. New Violation.
    14D Single-use gloves not changed as needed after changing tasks or when damaged or soiled..Observed employee wiping gloves off with wiping cloth New Violation.
    15C Observed build-up on shelves New Violation.
    17A Paper towels were not provided in the restroom New Violation.
    17C Floors must be resurfaced where needed
    Hole in ceiling must be repaired New Violation.
    17D Fans in the walk-in cooler needed cleaning New Violation.

    http://ga.state.gegov.com/georgia/inspectionPick.cfm?id=887676&county=Fulton

  4. Mell

    I agree that passing a scheduled re-inspection is not news worthy. I love the Porter, so was highly disapointed when they failed the health inspection. You do not expect higher end pubs, who charge what they do, to fail these types of tests.

    I do hope this has motivated them to have more respect for their customers and keep a clean and healthy establishment.

  5. Linda

    While I respect your decision to “entertain” the thought of posting re-inspections reports, I am disappointed that you decided not to add a follow up report.

    I question the process how you post inspections not that you posted a failed inspection of the Porter.
    If you are going to have a health code inspection section, I think its important to know why a specific restaurant failure is posted and not another one. For instance, there have been many failed inspections but only a few have been posted on this blog. So why pick the Porter out from a list of restaurant failed inspections. Is the reporter posting based on geography, food genre or personal reasons?

    I think when people’s livelihoods are on the line it is responsible journalism to report the full story, which includes preliminary failed inspections and re-inspection reports. I do think it’s important to not only know that a restaurant failed but what action they took afterwards.

    Its seems that this health inspection section is going towards the direction of Sensational journalism – shock your readers with failures and that is why you are not concerned with posting follow up inspections. I feel for some readers they will see the headline “FAILED” and it may deter them from attending that restaurant/bar especially if they have never been.

    This is why I think posting a passed re-inspection will show readers that the restaurant has taken positive action and hopefully will not discourage them from checking out the restaurant/bar.

    I will find other websites/blogs that will report failures as well as post any follow up inspections that the restaurant failed or passed.

    Good luck with your blog and if anything changes in the future, I will come back. Thank you for your time.

  6. Josh Thomas

    As a person who has owned and operated several restaurants in both Dekalb and Fulton counties since 1996 I need to point out to all of you that the new health code introduced about 2 years ago in DeKalb and more recently in Fulton county is full of opportunities to for an operator to lose points for silly reasons and getting a failing grade under the new system is easy. The new code also under-emphasizes real dangers while getting hung up on silly non-dangerous practices.

    None of my restaurants ever got a score below 95 under the old code and we have had some scores in the 80′s and even one in the 70′s since the new code came out.

    What did we lose points for? Not things that could effect the quality or safety of your food.

    Here are some sample violations we had to deal with, and the scary way they appear on the health inspection report.

    Bartender touched a lemon putting it on a Corona
    “No bare hand contact with ready to eat food” -9 points
    An employee had a Snapple drink in the back prep area, and it was not in a disposable cup with a lid
    “Employee health/hygenic practices” -4 points
    A case of eggs, in a sealed cardboard box was on 2nd shelf not the bottom shelf
    “Food separated and protected from Contamination”- 9 points
    Container of beef for grilling was on same shelf as a squeeze bottle of dressing, both had lids and were not touching
    “Food separated and protected from Contamination”- 9 points
    To go menu didn’t have the “Raw and Undercooked foods can cause illness” warning on the same page as the burgers
    “Consumer advisory provided for raw & undercooked foods” -4 points
    The same sink was used for hand washing behind the bar and dumping out leftover drinks guests left on bar
    “Good hygenic practices, adequate hand-washing facilities” – 4 points
    Cook, wearing gloves, changed to a fresh pair of gloves when the first pair were dirty, but didn’t wash hands (which had been gloved) between pairs
    “Good hygenic practices, Hands clean and properly washed” – 9 points

    Those are some 4 & 9 point violations. Some of which we have never even been able to find in the health code. If you contradict the health inspector, they will find something to write you up for, so most operators keep their mouths shut and take the write in order to avoid losing even more points.

    On the other hand, here are a few things that the health department isn’t too concerned about, and maybe they should be.
    1 point violations: Dirty un-sanitary bathrooms, garbage spilled in and around restaurant, dirty walls and floors, ventilation not working or inadequate, un-cleanable food prep surfaces.
    2 point violations: No hot water, backed up sewage, improper disposal of sewage or waste
    3 point violations: My favorite: Evidence of rat or bug infestation.

    You got that right, 3 points for rats, 9 points for a cup without a lid. Even worse under the new code similar violations are written up only once. A restaurant with 50 rats and bugs everywhere could get a 97
    While a neighborhood restaurant with one employee drink without a lid and a box of eggs on the wrong shelf could get an 82.

    Read the actual explanation of what a violation was before pre-judging a restaurant.
    The Porter is very clean and I eat there regularly. There a number of foodie favorites on Buford highway with scores in the 90′s that I couldn’t say the same thing about.

    Employee Cup without a lid next to dish sink

  7. J

    Looking at the Porter’s scoring history…

    Inspection date: February 11, 2011: Score: 99, Grade: A
    Inspection date: February 3, 2011: Score: 65, Grade: U
    Inspection date: March 25, 2010: Score: 93, Grade: A
    Inspection date: March 18, 2010: Score: 80, Grade: B

    …its an admittedly short pattern of got caught, fixed it..got caught, fixed it. Glad they are fixing the problem but you can see why health dept inspections need to be done annually as they are clearly slacking off a bit after fixing things up. Whether the testing methodology is fair is a different question altogether and one I certainly am in no position to answer.

  8. Jayde

    I don’t see any reason to post followup re-inspections, because re-inspections have to show improvement right after a fail. Improvement is required by the counties to avoid shut down.

    Initial score drops when requirements changed were understandable. But it’s been YEARS now. IMO, an operator should be well aware of what is needed to pass, seemingly pointless or not, and just do it right. The key point is that many restaurants (in fact most I check) are able to get consistently decent or excellent scores in all inspections, including random ones. So it’s clearly possible.

    When you look at inspection histories (counties post them all on line, including specific violations), some places show worrisome patterns. Poor random inspection. Fixed at scheduled re-inspection a week later. Another poor random inspection a few months later. Then the cycle repeats. Those places I don’t patronize, because it indicates sloppy practices are going on as soon as nobody is watching. Which I assume in turn means somebody – owner? manager? – probably doesn’t care.

  9. Robbie

    I agree that the second, planned inspection isn’t newsworthy. That being said, it’d be interesting to see what restaurants fail their first inspection and then ALSO fail the planned inspection. Or, restaurants who don’t fail the planned inspection, but don’t take the time to make sure they perform at 100% for it. Those would show a lack of respect for their customers that is indeed newsworthy.

  10. Georgie

    You should definitely heed the constructive criticism attached to this post.

    Sorry whatnowatlanta you’ve lost as a loyal reader.

  11. Chris

    Why should it be up to WNA to post reports/ follow ups for health scores at all? If you are interested you can go to the county websites and look up the ratings yourself. If you are not willing to do it, you don’t care all that much anyway. As the posts on this site are fairly rag-tag anyway, why would anyone be upset at the randomness of these reports?

  12. Rob

    I am disappointed to learn that the second test is scheduled. Just something else this city has screwed up. If they can’t pass the test day in, day out, they don’t need to be in business.

    1. B.S.

      I totally agree. There should not be a scheduled inspection on any day. They should all be Random and unplanned….The restaurants should be on top of their game 100% of the time.. And should pass any random test… Point Blank. Who wants to go to a restaurant who half a** follows rules when no one is looking, and can’t pass a Random Inspection?

  13. John

    This article is inaccurate. As a manager at previously inspected restaurants, the health score can vary drastically as different inspectors tell you different things. some can take off as much as 5-10 points for employees beverages not in a designated spot while others only care about things like temperatures (which I frankly think is most important because that is how most food-borne illnesses occur). some things are just downright petty like 9 points for cans with dents in them. As far as re-inspections are concerned, there is usually a time period in which the health inspector returns, but it is not “scheduled”. this period usually gives time to readjust to what the current inspector is looking which maybe contrary to what a previous inspector said. Find out why a restaurant got the score they got before posting mean-spirited articles about them.

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