Behind the scenes of a food safety inspection
Published: Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Updated: Friday, October 25, 2013 00:10
A patron goes to an unnamed restaurant to get coffee for their office one morning, as a kind gesture to their boss and coworkers. An hour later every one of the people who drank that coffee is glued to a toilet seat with their face in a bucket as they throw up things they ate in middle school. That patron from the coffee shop has been fired, all thanks to the horrors of one bottle of slightly spoiled creamer.
Health inspectors often get the brunt of people's dissatisfaction, whether it be customer or owner of a restaurant, according to Kristy Avritt, a Sam Houston State University graduate who now works protecting the people of Huntsville from dangerous food and unclean cooking practices.
Avritt has worked for Walker County health department for five years and has seen many things that would turn people off of eating out for the rest of their lives, but has also seen pristine kitchens to balance out the food industry. Kitchens she never thought she’d see.
The grossest thing Avritt said she had seen on the job was an abundance of employees trying bypass hand washing and general hygiene by going out behind the restaurant for bathroom breaks leaving the whole building smelling of urine. She also said that a large amount of people will wash their gloves as they wear them instead of disposing of their gloves and washing hands in between restroom breaks.
“I have a bachelor’s in kinesiology with a minor in health, so this wasn't what I planned to do,” said Avritt “but it's really interesting.”
Every month Avritt and her coworkers pull files on restaurants that are due for inspection and proceed to go through three or four inspections a day for the rest of the month, according to Avritt.
Several factors including “if a place is high risk or medium risk” can change the frequency of inspections as well as “ if any complaints have be filed and if there are any follow ups on places that score a 20 or more during an inspections.” according to Avritt.
The scale on which health inspections are done is basically the reverse of a school's grading scale. The more points a restaurant gets on an inspection the more violations they had. In addition violations vary in point value too.
“A temperature violation will earn five points.” Avritt said. “Personal hygiene violations, like not using gloves, washing your hands or having open drinks in the prep stations are four points each and equipment violations are three points.”
The highest score Avritt has ever come by fell upward toward 50 points, at which point the inspector has full discrimination on closing the business down until all violations have been fixed.
Avritt paid a surprise visit to Huntsville's Pita Pit on Tuesday and tested everything she came across with a thermocouple probe. Dressings and all perishables were checked for proper temperature ranges and expiration dates as well as tested for acidity levels.
The higher a pH reading is the more dangerous a food is. If a product's pH goes beyond 4.9 it is considered a hazard that cause customers to become ill. Within the span of 5.0 and 5.5 a product is deemed potentially hazardous and must be maintained at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or it counts as a critical violation and earns five points.
This was what Pita Pit's only food violation fell under earning them five of a total eight points during their inspection, when a rogue bottle of ranch was found hiding in the back of a cooler after having recently been traded out for a fresh bottle.
The other three points came from an unlabeled green cleaning solution aptly named Simple Green.
Avritt finished her inspection with a quick check of each soda nozzle for mildew and found no slime in the ice machine.
With only eight points tallied throughout the entire inspection, Pita Pit was deemed clean enough to eat from and earned itself an “A” from the health department.