Health inspectors see a side of restaurants that the public never get to view. Of course, that means they're often subjected to sights that would turn your stomach. Some of those health inspectors have shared their most horrifying things they ever saw on the job.
As Soon As He Opened The Door, He Was Hit In The Face With A Swarm Of Flies
“I was inspecting a pizza place. They used a ‘proofer’ to prepare the dough (think a big, warm, humid cabinet). I opened it up, and a million flies flew at me. I closed the door and looked through the glass. Someone had left a tray of dough in the proofer for a long time. The tray was filled with what seemed to be a billion maggots. The dough had turned to liquid at this time. The manager of the store tried to tell me it was only left overnight. They will lie no matter what.”
No Wonder That Woman Got Sick If That’s How The Chef Treated His Utensils
“My brother is a health inspector. He tells me that every kitchen operating for over a year has black mold somewhere. Permanent fixtures, old rotten food wedged in corners of flooring and cracks, unclean utensils, it’s always there. One time, he had to investigate a Denny’s after a woman got ill dining there. Upon the results of his investigation, he found that the cook had been placing the spatula in the crack of his buttocks between meals. My brother immediately shut the place down and had the entire restaurant swept for dirt and other grime. Let’s just say that it hasn’t reopened in over five years after a possum infestation was discovered in the kitchen.”
It Wasn’t Just That The Grease Was Old, It Was What Was In It
“I once struck up a conversation with the health inspector as he inspected my kitchen; he told me about our neighboring restaurant he just shut down. While walking to the freezers, he noticed the frier had not been drained and the oil had congealed, but not before a rat had fallen in. Its tail was protruding from the now solid oil. After bringing this to the attention of the manager, the inspector went on to find various violations. When the inspector passed back through the frier area, he saw that the owner’s solution to the rat problem had been yanking the rat by the tail and cutting around the body before firing up the oil for the day’s needs. He had been having trouble/complaints about this place for months, and after the rat corndog incident, he ordered the doors locked and restaurant closed.”
She’s Seen A Lot Of Unsavory Things In Her Time
“Oh man. I was a health inspector for about two years in a popular East Coast beach town. Here are some highlights:
I shut down a Chinese restaurant after I inspected them and found chicken sitting out at room temperature. I made them throw it away but came back minutes later to see the food taken out of the dumpster and now being cooked.
I shut down another restaurant (popular, late-night joint) after discovering their walk-in was hovering around 70 degrees. I noticed a block of cheese that looked like a big green football where they had cut pieces of cheese out from the inside to avoid the mold.
Shut down another restaurant (Steelers bar. Go Ravens) after I went in and they had been without water for three days (according to their staff), had no hand soap anywhere in the building, and only one of their refrigerators was within temperature.
Shut down yet another restaurant after I caught the wasted cook peeing down the drain in the steam room as opposed to using the bathroom.
One of my favorites: the knife-wielding sushi chef yelling at me while shaking his knife after I caught him substituting tilapia for red snapper.
I almost forgot the craziest story of the restaurant where they were filming adult videos in the kitchen after hours, and using some equipment from the kitchen in creative ways.”
When He Had To Come Back A Second Time, He Was Spitting Mad
“This one large restaurant in the area had several bars inside, and they had a barback prep room. In this room, they stored everything from kegs to cups to straws and what not. Under health codes in the state where I worked, you could not have any food in unfinished rooms. This room was very much unfinished. It was practically a basement with unfinished wood everywhere and wires hanging from the ceiling. When I first went there, they had fruit and everything out, and they were cutting food in there. I told them no way, you can’t do this here. Some smug, 18-year-old looking kid was like, ‘Well, what do you want us to do, then?’ I kindly pointed out to him that the restaurant had two fully functioning kitchens where he could cut fruit. The kid called his manager over, and the manager was equally as rude and ticked off.
Well, I went back for a re-inspection 30 days later, and of course, the table was still there. This time though, they were cutting New York strips. This was blatant defiance by them, and I took it as such.
As an aside, I was never a mean inspector. I had the attitude of, hey I have a job to do, let me do my job, and there will be no problems. The people that were good owners understood that, and I would work with them, especially if the repairs required were expensive. If you were a jerk and made my job rough, then I would not cut you the same slack.
Back to the story. Basically, I ripped the guy a new one, and told him it had better be gone when I come back in 15 days, and handed him a list of other things to be done.
I showed up 15 days later. Everything was fixed, and the prep table was gone. I was pretty happy, and the guy was polite and easy going. Just as I was finishing going over the report, I looked up at the board where they had lists of the maintenance that needed to be done. On that board, I saw something along the lines of, ‘Remove prep station in barback prep room, replace once health inspector leaves.’
Needless to say, the guy’s face turned bright red. I informed him that I would be back at random times throughout the summer, and if I ever caught it again, I would shut them down on the spot. Never went back that summer, but I hope the fear was enough to stop them from doing it.”
The Infestations Are Always The Worst
“The dual combo of mouse and roach infestations are usually the worst, as the urine and feces are usually the most unsanitary part of the equation.
Or the triple whammy with rats on the exterior. Nasty characters, but they tend to stay outside (or in basements).
One of my first restaurants had such an infestation; a mouse had been stuck in a trap (under a dining room booth) and had eaten the brains of her young to stay alive. The corpses (numerous adults, plus young) were hallowed shells, the maggots had cleaned them out.
The roach infestation was contained in the moist and warm kitchen, where the food was made.
The most common issue I came across was insufficient cleaning and dilapidated structures. When it comes to pests in a restaurant, it’s not a matter of ‘if,’ but a matter of ‘how many.'”
Don’t Ask What’s In The Bucket
“My mother is a health inspector. She inspected a Chinese restaurant, and in the kitchen, there was a bucket of urine under a preparation bench. The chefs used the bucket instead of making the trip to the restroom.”
They Could Have Blown The Restaurant Sky High With That Stove
“The rubber hoses used in gas stoves have an expiration date printed on it so that you know when to replace them. I once saw a big commercial gas stove where they had been expired for ten years. It’s a wonder nothing had blown up.”
The Smell Was The Worst Part
“I’m a field tech on restaurant equipment. Worse thing I walked in on was in one restaurant where the floor was being torn up because the owner was repairing an open sewer line that ran through the kitchen. All the while, cooks were preparing meals. The whole place smelled like an open sewer, and dirty tools were on the same countertop where the food was being prepared. I also constantly run into heavy rodent and roach problems. Chili places that use large steam kettles also use large paddles to prepare the chili and stand them, paddle end down, on the dirty floor next to the kettles. Once, when working on a commercial food processor in one kitchen, I removed the blades from a ‘clean’ unit and found that there was a pasty, yogurt-like cream oozing from the shaft area. It smelled like butt and eggs.”
In Two Years, He’s Seen Some Gnarly Stuff
“I’ve been an inspector for about two years now, here are a few off the top of my head:
-Designated hand wash sinks were inoperable, blocked or showed signs of never being used; even the ones in the employee restrooms.
-Once saw guy pick his nose right in front of me, then continued to handle food.
-I’ve seen cockroach infestations more times than I wish to count
-I saw guy drop a cooked egg roll on the floor, then watched him pick it up and put it on a plate to be served.
-There was a kitchen operating with sewage backing up on the floors. All the employees wore boots and thought nothing of it. Or at least were instructed by the owner/manager to keep working with those conditions. One of the chefs even tried to unclog it while I was there with his bare hands. After he was unsuccessful, he then proceeded to continue preparing food. Without washing his hands.”
They Didn’t Even Know There Was A Problem Until The Health Inspector Showed Up
“At a wing shop I used to work at, there was a sink where we would drain the blood out of bags of chicken before putting them in the fryer. Well, there was a leak in the pipe that was left unfixed for months. When the next health inspector came, he walked into the (luckily unused) storage room in the basement directly below the sink to find an inch deep pool of rancid, congealed chicken blood.”
Some People Didn’t Even Realize That There Was A Problem Until It Was Already Dangerous
“I’m going on 10 years as an inspector. Most dangerous is usually not the most disgusting. I’ve seen entire walk-in coolers at 55 to 60 degrees, and the staff didn’t even notice anything wrong. I’ve seen piles of mice that died getting stuck in the grease behind the fryer. I’ve seen staff throwing raw burgers on the grill then making a salad right after. I’ve seen squirrels and birds roaming freely inside a bread manufacturer. The stereotypes are true, Chinese restaurant kitchens are almost always filthy.
Most common critical violation: Dish machine not sanitizing properly.
Chains are generally clean, they have corporate guidelines and procedures written, they train their employees on those procedures, and many have their own private inspectors. New restaurants tend to stay nice for a long time, they are made to be easy to clean with stainless everything.
Generally, the worst ones are Mom and Pop places that have been around forever. They don’t understand the health code, have old, poorly maintained equipment, can’t spend money to fix issues, untrained staff, etc.”
They Claimed They “Learned From Their Mistakes”
“My grandpa was a health inspector. He went to this Chinese buffet and had to shut it down for the number of mice and cockroaches that ended up in the food. A couple years later, they wanted to reopen and said they had ‘learned from their mistakes,’ but when my grandpa came around for the next inspection, they were shut down again.”
“We Can Scrape It Off”
“One time, the McDonald’s I worked for had a health inspection. We had a few racks of expired buns. They had been expired for at least a week and were getting moldy. My boss pushed them to the back where the trash sits.
After the inspector left, he pulled them all out. I did my shift set up and started throwing the buns. He got angry saying I was wasting money. I told him that they were moldy. He said, ‘We can scrape it off.’ I asked him if he personally would eat one, and he said no and walked away.”
The Meat Pies Had An Extra Ingredient
“I saw pies that hadn’t yet had their lids put on, so they were open to a cockroach-infested kitchen. We were getting complaints about half-eaten cockroaches in pies.
Extractor fans had inches of grease in them, which is a major fire risk.
Most problems relate to storage of food rather than preparation.”
They Sold Those Meat Pies To Schools!
“Former health inspector. Strangely, the cleanliness of a kitchen does not correlate to the quality of the food. Obviously, a dirty place will have major issues with food hygiene and potential food poisoning, but similarly, the cleanest kitchens often provide the worst food. A properly run KFC or Maccas should be spotless, and they have very well documented cleaning policies, but the food is crap.
Worst I saw:
-A commercial bakery providing meat pies to schools had no proper insect controls and would leave the pie bases with meat fillings on racks to cool. They would put the top on and cook before packing. One in 20 was baked with either a cockroach or roach egg.
-Extractor fans above stoves that had inches of fat in them with no flame arrestor. A flame up from the stove could have incinerated everyone in the restaurant.
-A famous and popular Italian restaurant in the city had some complaints about food poisoning. We took a swab of the bench top (stainless steel), and it had a film of muck that was almost 100 percent pathogen. That should theoretically not be possible on stainless steel.”
That’s A Color No Grill Should Ever Be
“I once inspected a restaurant, and when I looked at the grill, it was GREEN! Apparently, it had not been cleaned in so long, food actually started to mold on it! The owner of the restaurant said, ‘You’re supposed to clean it?’ I shut down the restaurant for a month while a cleaning crew cleaned that dump.”
If They Mixed Those Bags Up, It’d Be A Catastrophe
“My father was a health inspector. He once told me of a place that made their own corn tortilla chips in-house. Apparently, they had a big (like 35-gallon) trash can that they would put a trash bag in, and fill with the chips as they came out of the fryer, which they would then store in the trash bags until use.
As if that weren’t bad enough, they also used the same size/type trash cans and bags for trash around the kitchen.”
Skip The Pasta At This Pizzeria
“Went to a pizza place, and they had ant killer sitting in the kitchen. Parts of the pasta machine sitting on the bottle. They put their pasta in bins in the walk-in fridge, right under the cooling unit. The unit would violently kick on and sprinkle rust and bits of mold into the noodles.
Went to the local jail, and inmates were stashing sandwiches in the kitchen in places where they could grab them after their shift was over. They’re like squirrels and forgot where they put them sometime. Whole placed reeked of rotting, wet bread. If you’ve ever smelled it, it’s not something you really forget.”
Some Things Cannot Be Unseen
“I’m the son of a health inspector. He’s shown me some photos of some of the worst he found, here are a few:
-A rat that had half eaten through a loaf of bread before it had been put through a bread cutting machine. Each slice of bread, you could see a segment of the rat.
-An angry employee, who got fired, pooped in a milkshake machine. The machine was only cleaned a few days later.
-A toilet with a pipe that lead openly into the kitchen, where the waste flowed into an open drain.”
People Will Do Anything To Pass An Inspection
“Thankfully, I’ve seen nothing that has made my blood run cold yet. Overflowing grease traps are always a delight, one coworker had a trap explode on her once. Fruit fly coated beer pitchers are routine. I once saw snowboard boots in a dishwashing sink. That was different. No one had any explanation for that. A dude panicked about not having any sanitizer, so he went and dumped out a Windex bottle and started pouring bleach in it until I yelled at him to stop. Then there were the people who would spray bleach right on dishes to try and fake sanitizer readings on malfunctioning dishwashers.”
The Dining Room Was Spotless, But The Kitchen Was A Different Story
“I worked for a while cleaning restaurants.
We went to check out a site that wasn’t happy with their current contractor. It wasn’t difficult to see why.
The Front of House was immaculate, but once you went into the kitchen, all bets were off. Absolutely disgusting. Anything that hit the floor at the cook line got kicked under the appliances and left to rot. Mummified rotting mouse corpses caught in traps. And the flies, oh god, the flies. It was an Asian restaurant.”
The “Fix-It” Guy Might Have Caused The Initial Problem, But It Wasn’t Him Who Got Them Shut Down
“I worked at a pizzeria where one of the kitchen guys decided to take it upon himself to be our ‘fix-it’ man. This wasn’t a big deal; he fixed some stuff here and there during down times. But then one day, I got to work after we had closed for the long weekend and opened the walk-in fridge. I got hit with an overwhelming smell of paint. Turns out, he decided to paint the inside of our walk-in. I’m not sure what possessed him to do that or his reasoning for doing it. I grabbed a tub of cheese and got to work only to find out all my pizza tasted slightly like paint fumes. He painted and put food back in, but it was never vented. The kicker was that the manager was cheap, so he didn’t want to toss much of the food. I quit later the week, called the health department, and it was later closed down for other things.
We had pizza racks that were like wooden cubbies that were supposed to have slide-out panels, but they did not slide out, so they got nasty in corners because no one bothered to wipe them.
Our dough fridge was sometimes wet on the bottom, so it’d get all gunny with all the flour and semolina we would toss with the pies. At least we kept the dough in clean trays, so only the bottom trays were real nasty on the bottom side.
Numerous kitchen staff light a smoke and not wash hands after.”