One of my favorite time-wasting activities is surfing the KC Food Protection Program database for restaurants I know and love (or hate). It’s like a junior high school slam book, and for the snarky among food service workers (we are legion) it is a satisfying muckrake.
For anyone not in the know, it’s the very public records of King County’s Health Inspections for restaurants and other food vending industries. Your favorite dog stand? It’s in there! The worst Dim Sum joint in the northwest? It’s in there! Look up any restaurant in Seattle and its inspection report is there: the good, the bad and the ugly. To be fair, not everyone has serious violations, and lots of places pass inspection with just a few suggestions for doing better… But you can also see the restaurants that get high red marks, which are violations that will shut a place down. It’s more cut and dried than the well-written Waiter Rant and less amusing than the post-shift drunken ranting on Shameless Restaurants, but gosh I like looking up my old places of employ. And it’s so easy. Just point, click, type and wait for the horror.
I just revisited the site cause my friend mentioned the Seattle PI’s recent column on King County’s top 10 health-code violators. I’ve worked in a few of them. I won’t mention their names.
As Suzie described the article to me I regaled her with a funny story about a restaurant where the owner’s dogs were often guests in the kitchen. When I sat down to read the list, I had to laugh. Despite being under new management the place is still filthy enough to get closed down. Hmm.
Another restaurant on the list should be no surprise to anyone in the industry. They’ve been cited so many times I can’t even believe they’re still open. But shucks do they have good food, and my best foodie friends from SF won’t eat anywhere else when they’re in town. WhaddamIgonnasay?
I’ve worked in restaurants where we’ve gotten red points for stuff that I think is stupid-once I was cooling off food before tossing it into a (plastic, melty) garbage bag and earned us a significant red point deduction for the improper use of cooling methods… I can even look it up right now. (Hi, me!). I’ve earned some blue points for a restaurant for holding my wipe towel on a shelf instead of in the bleach bucket, and for storing fish and meat on the same reach-in shelf. We all do lame stuff and it’s sometimes hard to get the health code rules right all the time. It sucks to get written up, and it sometimes makes you hate those freakin inspectors with their radar temperature scanner that look like a traffic cop’s speed gun. And when they point it at your cantaloupe slices to read their internal temperature and you say: "uh, how fast was that cantaloupe going, officer?" and they don’t laugh…well, you wonder what their problem is. At least I did.
But really, restaurant inspectors are good folks doing a thankless job. NO ONE is happy to see the inspector, but he or she is there to keep us on the right side of the health code, and for the public’s safety. Inspectors are tough but not spiteful. A lot of them have been in the industry themselves, lots of them know how hard it is for a restaurant to keep up with changing regulations. These guys are genuinely interested and willing to help a restaurant figure out how to get things straight. Do what they tell you to do, don’t be a jerk to them, and you’ll make it out alive. Don’t kiss their asses though, cause they’ll definately know something’s up.
It takes a lot of aggressive negligence to violate so many rules at once. And there are a shocking number of things that an inspector will often miss or let slide… but that’s another rant. When a restaurant complains as one in the PI article did (cough-cough) about being unfairly singled out, I call Big Time BS.