Kevin Landers 10TV News (Ohio) asks, “Just how clean is your favorite place to eat?” 10TV News investigations discovered what really happens behind the counter.
Kent Bradley and his team of food inspectors examine 1,700 food establishments twice a year to make sure what you eat is safe. They are looking for issues that can lead to food-borne illnesses, like Salmonella poisoning.
According to the Ohio Department of Health, prepared food at restaurants and delicatessens had the highest number of reported outbreaks of food-borne illness. Statewide, the number jumped from 58 cases in 2001, to 80 in 2005. That’s an increase of 38 percent.
10 Investigates searched more than a thousand food safety reports over the past three months. Inspectors from Columbus and Franklin County found violations that would make your stomach turn. They found things such as spinach thawing next to vat filled with bloody water, gnats, no hand washing, a hand drill used as mixer, blood on floor of walk-in cooler, rodent droppings, and dead roaches in a bag of flour.
Bradley says he’ll never forget one inspection he did.
“I thought I saw something move out of the corner of my eye. A mouse was on the floor, grabbed a fry, and ran back in,” Bradley said.
Despite some restaurants with repeated critical violations, it’s rare that the city or the county will shut down a restaurant. In fact, over the past year, the city closed two restaurants and suspended the licenses of 7. The county also closed two restaurants last year.
“Enforcement and especially closing is a last resort,” Bradley said.
Health inspectors say most violations don’t fall under immediate public health threat. Inspectors ask owners to fix problems before they leave, and most do. Not all violations, however, can be easily corrected the same day, leaving the public in the dark about where they are about eat.
“On the cleanliness of the restaurant I think they do a tremendous job,” said Robert Kramer, Columbus Sanitarian.
With no law requiring food handlers to be certified in food safety, eating out can be a risky business.
This investigation centered on six restaurants that had the worst violations over a three-month period. Because of 10TV, the health department went back to see how many of those restaurants corrected their mistakes and found that three had not. They’re scheduled for hearings before the Board of Health.