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Just So You Know: Restaurant Health Scores

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When you eat out at any kind of food establishment, you expect your food to be safe to eat. But how can you be sure? Some people may check to see how clean their glassware is or try to peek into the kitchen to see if it looks tidy. But there is a better way. Every professional food service establishment in Georgia is required to have a permit from the Georgia Department of Public Health and to post their most recent inspection score where it is easy to find and read.

Why is Food Safety Important?

No one wants to eat food that was prepared in a dirty kitchen. But irresponsible food service practices are more than just distasteful. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), based right here in Atlanta,  estimates 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases each year in the United States. The majority of those illnesses come from foods people eat at home. However, the CDC notes that while it easy to track the illnesses, it is much harder to determine their source. Americans eat a wide variety of foods from many different sources. But we all agree that eating at a professional food establishment should be a safe, healthy experience.

Where Do Foodborne Diseases Come From?

When it comes to foodborne diseases at restaurants, safe storage is a major contributing factor. Up to 90% of food poisoning cases that come from restaurants are due to improper food storage. The Georgia Department of health requires potentially hazardous foods such as meat, poultry, fish, etc. to be kept at at least 140º when stored hot and below 45º when stored cold. To us, that sounds like common sense. After all, you wouldn’t want to eat a burger that had been sitting on your kitchen counter all day.

Another source of foodborne diseases in restaurants is poor hygiene. Employees are required to wash their hands often, and to always wash after using the restroom, smoking, eating, or blowing their nose. Would you believe that 1 in 4 cases of restaurant food poisoning can be blamed on poor hygiene? Gross!

Food preparation is also a significant factor in food safety. The Food and Drug Administration sets guidelines for the safe internal temperatures of potentially hazardous foods. Restaurants should be using an internal thermometer to ensure that all potentially hazardous foods are adequately heated.

Reading Food Inspection Reports

Every professional food establishment in Georgia is inspected by the Georgia Department of Public health once, twice, or three times a year depending on the type of establishment. After the inspection, the business is issued an inspection report. Georgia law requires businesses to post the inspection report where it can easily be seen and read. For most restaurants, the inspection report needs to be displayed within 15 feet of the main entrance, between 5 and 7 feet from the floor, and in a spot where it can be read from 1 foot away. In other words, you should be able to walk up and easily read the report.

The most important part of a health inspection report is the score the restaurant or other business earned. The score starts at 100 and deductions are made for anything that is less than perfect about the establishment’s food safety. Anything below 70 is a failing grade, and the establishment is granted a very short time to improve their score or be shut down. However, reading the score can give you an idea of how clean an establishment is. Just because they passed doesn’t mean you need to eat there. For Dale, any score below 90 is not somewhere he wants to eat.

If the health inspection report isn’t clearly posted, turn around and walk away. There’s probably a reason it’s hidden. Besides being illegal, hiding an inspection report is a good sign that the owner of the restaurant doesn’t want you to know how low their score is. Of course, before you walk out, you may want to ask where the report is displayed. It’s possible you just missed it.

Where Is It Safe to Eat?

Never eat somewhere that doesn’t have a food permit. That’s just asking for trouble. However, if a food establishment has a current permit, exactly what score you are comfortable with is up to you. A score of 70 or above means that the Georgia Department of Health is willing to vouch that this is a safe place to eat. But if you’re at all squeamish about the food you eat, you may want to set a personal standard a little higher.

Whatever choice you make, we at TrustDALE want to make sure it is an informed choice. That’s why we report on important topics like this, just so you know. You can find more helpful videos on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/TrustDale.