It's incredible how filthy kitchens and restaurants can be. It defies common sense! These health inspectors have some crazy stories that will have you thinking that jail is not good enough for the people that work in these disgusting places.
(Content edited for clarity)
The Mop Sink Is A Popular Place To Defrost Meat
“I walked into a Mexican restaurant one time and saw some lady soaking some tripe in a mop sink. I saw that and told them to throw all of it in the dumpster and bleach it in front of me. My boss had seen a restaurant defrosting raw shrimp in a mop sink with the mop draped over the faucet. My other co-worker had to work a foul odor complaint where this Chinese buffet was closed for about a week without utilities. He walked in and found the food was still in the buffet line. He said the stench was so rotten that he immediately threw up upon opening the door. The food was stewing in its juices for a week in the Texas summer heat. Those are the worst ones that I can think of at the moment.”
Recycling An Old School Bus
“My mother briefly became the head of the health inspection for our county, I recall two good stories:
First, she noted that even though there were many violations there seemed to be no punishment from the department for restaurants that forced them to fix these things… except for new restaurants. She asked why. Their response was that ‘These restaurant owners are our friends! If we punish them or fine them or send out a violation notice, they might not like us anymore.’ She tried to fix that, but story three below got in the way.
Second – and this is just awesome, so I am sharing it. A house (not a restaurant) had a sewage problem, it was backing up, and the neighbors finally got the county to investigate. They decided that the septic tank was backed up. So they forced the homeowner to dig it up and reinstall a new one (a few thousand dollars even back in the day). When they finally got it exposed they discovered the homeowner had backed a short school bus into a trench 10 or 20 years before and had the sewage going into a window in the front behind the driver seat, and had cracked open the back door to allow it to drain… it was full.
Third, there was a dude, old dude, who was ‘close to retirement.’ He was a poop stain. He was verbally and physically abusive to the staff. What she did do is fire his behind. But the county board rehired him since he was” close to retirement!” After he abused (attacked) some of the women in the office, she fired him again. (this is like month two of the job), and then five people on the county board and her all had flat tires the same day, and they discovered that each of them had a box of nails emptied at the bottom of their driveway… so the county board rehired the jerk.
Fast Food Joints Will Freak You Out
“Former inspector and oh goodness I could write a book.
Burger King had raw sewage coming out of the drain ankle high. Employees acted like it was normal.
Taco Bell had a fly problem; a customer brought back a taco with a live fly inside.
Mold in ice machines. I have seen some with gobs and gobs of pink mold oozing in the ice off from the ice blades.
Popeyes Chicken serving rotten gray chicken. Stank of death.
Chick-Fil-A raw sewage backup in the kitchen with the owner wiping the sweat off his face and continue making sandwiches.
Popeyes where the whole building was slanted and about to fall over and still operating.
Popeyes who knew who I was and spit in my food.
Lots of broken coolers and temperature abused foods.
Taco Bell with no AC in summer. No coolers worked, and employees were sweating into food. Upper management kept delaying AC repairs. AC was fixed three days after the inspection.
Watched a GM pull a spatula out of dirty sink water to flip burger patties. Scratches her behind while handling the burger.”
“When I was working at Papa John’s, we were next door to a Chinese restaurant and a Subway. Health inspector came by one day and dinged the Chinese restaurant for having shrimp not properly refrigerated. The owner argued with the inspector for like ten minutes in front of the store, but obviously, the inspector wasn’t budging. Told him no big deal, just throw out that shrimp and expect to get re-checked in a few weeks.
He came next door to our store and wanted to see what we were doing with our expired dough trays, so I took him out back to show him where they’re stacked up waiting for the truck and find Chinese guy taking the shrimp back OUT OF THE DUMPSTER.
They got shut down on the spot.”
Nothing Like A Bribe To Wipe Out The Bugs
“Chinese Buffett restaurants are the absolute, most disgusting places to dine. I was performing a pest control service on one restaurant that was shut down by the health inspector. Four techs, spending five hours treating for German cockroaches. I have NEVER seen an infestation more severe than this one. When we finished for the day, I would say that there were at least a few thousand cockroaches still running around. Health inspector collected an envelope from the owner, took down the violation on the door, got in his car and drove off. He didn’t even reinspect the place.”
Keeping It NEAR The Freezer Works, Right?
“I’m not a health inspector but a firefighter. I have a few nightmare tales about Chinese restaurants. One restaurant had a fire, and they pulled out the chemical fire extinguisher to put it out. After we finish putting the fire out, the owner has the staff going back in and cleaning off the chemical from the extinguisher off the food so it can be sold. So that was a call to the fire marshal and Department of Health.
The second one was at a Chinese restaurant where their freezer is in the basement. It turns out their freezer wasn’t big enough for what they need so they just left the door open and piled the food in the hallway near the freezer door. I’m very picky about my Chinese restaurants.
It’s Not A Good Idea To Try To Trick The Inspector
“I was a health inspector for about two years in a popular East Coast beach town – here are some highlights.
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.
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 a 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 1 of their refrigerators was within temperature.
Shut down another restaurant after I caught the wasted cook urinating in the drain in the steam room as opposed to using the bathroom.
Another restaurant I was fighting with them over the location of a food prep station in an unfinished room. When I inspected the table wasn’t there, but I found a sign of stuff for them to do that they had forgotten to put away which said: ‘put station away when health inspector comes, then replace when he leaves.’ Basically, this one large restaurant in the area has several bars inside – such that they had a bar back prep room. In this room, they stored everything from drinks 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 preparing 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 pissed 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 jerk head 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, however, and made my job rough, then I would not cut you the same slack.
Back to the story – I ripped the guy a new one and told him the table had better be gone when I came back in 15 days and handed him a list of other things to be done.
15 days later I show up, and everything is fixed, and the prep table is gone. I am pretty happy, and the guy is super polite and easy going. Just as I am finishing going over the report, I look up at the board where they had lists of the maintenance that needed to be done. On that board, I see something along the lines of ‘remove prep station in bar back prep room – replace once health inspector leaves.’
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.
This is all just off the top of my head. I have many many more.”
Two Complete Horror Shows
I inspected a Yum Cha restaurant that was popular in the area and had people traveling out of the suburb to get there. The kitchen was filthy. The deep frier hadn’t been cleaned at all, grime and grease caked on. The cool room was stacked to overflowing, and there was no food separation, and cross-contamination was rife. Garbage was piled up in a corner, all the off food. They stored fish and meat hanging on wires out the back in the carpark with flies buzzing around them. Nice big meaty blowflies that would as soon as rough you up as get into the meat. Several pieces were flyblown. The chopping boards had dried blood, sauces; food remains layered on.
The place was disgusting. However, we need an airtight case and demonstrate we were reasonable before we can prosecute. So out goes letter with photos and a list of works that needed to be completed.
I’d etched my name and date in the grime under the deep fryers and taken a photo. Over the next week, I went back and visited and got photos of my name and date slowly being covered by more grease and grime until finally, it was indistinguishable from the rest of the filth covered floor.
Took them to court and got three prosecutions. They lawyered up and lawyer said they had cleaned. Our lawyer handed over photo series showing name being covered up. Case closed.
Gave them a chance to comply but no, they never clean but now pretend they don’t understand English. That’s ok, I don’t need them to converse, I just collect evidence. Second appearance in court 18 prosecutions. Redid the etching name in grime trick but this time did a new one every visit. It was like a slow frame animation of dirt.
We finally closed them down. The restaurant had two floors and operated out of both. Closing down was essentially an injunction against operating and had heftier penalties than prosecutions against the Food Act. So I was sitting in my car outside the restaurant that night – this is high tech spy stuff – watching as the bottom floor was closed, but the upper floor was operating as normal. Counting people coming in and out and collecting evidence.
Next day rock up and ask how everything is going. They are doing a clean, not a great one but still a clean. Have crates of prawns and fish on the grease trap with flies hovering. Ask the owner if they were open last night. Owner says no, his son says yes. Silence. They look at each other and some quick Chinese (I don’t know if it was Mandarin or Cantonese). Later, they both turn back to me and say ‘no’ in unison; they weren’t open. They couldn’t have practiced it better.
Back to court, we go where they get shut down and the injunction won’t be lifted until they provide receipts for professional cleaners and so on to show that they’ve cleaned. I left that council not long after so never knew what happened afterward.
The other bad one was a premium bakery that not only had a storefront but also supplied most of the high-end restaurants in the area. When I got to the council food inspections hadn’t been done for years as not many inspectors were interested in that side. So this place hadn’t seen an inspector for years.
It used to be a furniture store where the upstairs used to be storage and the downstairs was the showroom. This meant there was a big hole in the floor with a railing and pulley & chain where furniture would be raised and lowered as needed. As a bakery, the upstairs was empty and all the food prep happened downstairs. There was a false wall with an attached storage room in-between the front shop area and the rear prep area. The prep area opened onto a rear lane through a massive roller door. The bakery would operate with the door open.
For effective cleaning and to prevent vermin infestation food and everything should be kept at least 100mm off the floor. Everything in this place was on the floor except for some of the storage racks which could be wheeled around.
Once you get experienced, when you go into a place you get a good sense of what you’ll find. For example, there were really old crappy shops that would never meet today’s construction codes but if they were clean and the operation was good, you’d know that everything would be ok. There are other places that are just crap no matter how new they are. It’s the little things. This place was trash.
What stood out? In the storage room that separated the shop front from the prep area was where a lot of the flour was stored. It was on the floor and several bags looked to have spilled. If you’ve seen how a mouse or rat chews through a bag, it’s different from a tear or bag fail. Looking in I was fairly confident that this was mouse damage. The owner/operator normally follows you on your inspections which is good because you want dialogue. It’s a great way to collect information. So I go in and the owner’s right behind me. I move a bag and a mouse shoots out and runs across the floor and through a hole in the wall. I look at the owner and he just looks at me. I say ‘Did you see that?’ He says no. It’s gonna be one of those. So I move more bags and there’s mouse poop everywhere, open up bags and there’s poop in there too. Workers had gotten supplies from here during the inspection. They may not be poppy seeds on the french roll.
Next was upstairs. The owner complains about me going up there because it’s not used for anything – no prep or storage. I notice a lot of cockroach droppings on the concrete stairs on the way up. When I get to the top, it’s a large empty area taking up the whole floor, probably 30mx15m. There’s an old mattress at one end and windows, some broken.
I take my first tentative step.
But what is this? I cannot put my foot there; there is this…this stuff. It smells, it’s nasty and a bit sticky if I dared to touch. So I try and put my foot elsewhere but the next stuff is bigger and longer like a grain of rice. I stand on my dainty tiptoes and look into the yonder room and to my dismay, the whole floor is covered in rat, mice and roach feces, not enough to completely cover the bare floor but enough so I could not step anywhere without risk of fecal contamination.
If you dared, as I did, to walk around you would see that the mattress has a thriving nest of rats, there were birds nesting in different parts of the walls and the best…the best? Not the floor carpeted with droppings, no, it was the railing around the hole between floors. You stand at the railing and look down and below are the rows of racks of freshly baked and cooked pastries and rolls and buns and other flakey crust delights.
And what perches on the railings? Birds. Birds were sitting and chirping and baring their feathery squirting arses over the hole between floors adding a little extra savory touch to all the good things below.
That was the most disgusting thing I saw at a restaurant/food shop.”
“They Are Lucky No One Died”
“I’ve got quite a few. Mexican, Chinese, and Italian restaurants are typically the most egregious offenders. This sucks because their food is usually the most delicious, as long as you’re okay with potentially dying later from it.
I’ve only ever closed down one restaurant. It’s much harder in most places than you would imagine: lots of red tape that prevent field staff, and even managers, from using their professional judgment in the service of public health.
A pizza place was operating without a permit at one point in time. I drafted a letter stating that, and before I went out to hand-deliver it, I got a complaint notification. Someone had eaten their pizza the day before, and their son had felt glass (or something that felt like pulverized glass) in his pizza. Backing up for a moment to the red tape thing: we’re not legally allowed to investigate or inspect restaurants who don’t have a permit (you can thank the U.S. Constitution for that). You can see the dilemma. We decide the best course of action is to deliver the letter saying they’re operating illegally, and that it would be in the best interest of their business and the public health to allow us to investigate the nature of the complaint.
After I get permission to go in and take a look around, I’m appalled: the manager has fingernails that extend probably half an inch beyond the nail bed. And they’re caked in flour and other ingredients. The other employee there has dirty bandages all over his fingers. Both of these characters are wearing dirty uniforms. The walk-in cooler has loads of uncovered foods sitting beneath stalactites of mold, all beneath a ceiling of black filamentous fungi. The pizza-prep table has broken doors/hinges and is covered with what I can only describe as putrified ingredients from 2003. It hasn’t been cleaned since then. The plastic Lexan containers holding the food items in the cooler are all breaking apart and chipping. At this point, I’ve got a few ideas as to what that guy found in his pizza, and I don’t think any of them are glass. It’s probably a fingernail, or a band-aid, or plastic, or maybe broken metal from the cooler itself.
Then I see it. The most disgusting can opener I’ve ever seen. To put it in perspective, mounted can openers are like the low hanging fruit of every health inspector: they’re almost always out of compliance, and writing one up will make you look like a try-hard jerk who’s out to get the restaurant owner in trouble. They’re usually not a big deal. Except for this one. This one is caked with dried, vile, pizza sauce goop that has turned black with age. The blade itself is so dull and chipped it is peeling metal filaments off into a mass next to the blade. Every time this thing is used to open a new pizza sauce, it deposits metal chips, flakes, filaments, whatever you want to call it, into that sauce, and into the bellies of the customers.
Needless to say, I was appalled. I had the person in charge call the store owner, who pleaded with me to let him stay open. Given that they didn’t even have a permit to be open in the first place, this was a no-go. I went back the next day with back-up, and we formally closed them for operation until they could get everything back into working order. Surprise, surprise, they call the next day saying everything is fixed, and… I can’t believe it, but it was. Managerial lack of control aside, they must have spent thousands of dollars and 16 hours into cleaning this place. The one dude even clipped his fingernails!
Success story? Maybe. Gross example of what you get with second-rate poorly managed restaurants? Definitely. They’re lucky no one has yet died from eating there.”
Gunking Up The Works
“I was in the training program to be a state health inspector after I graduated from college. The majority of the inspections weren’t memorable, and small stuff got written up, like temps being too low or high, not having gloves accessible, storing meat boxes on the ground, etc.
The two inspections that I remember being horrible were both at low-end Chinese places in strip malls. In one inspection, the wok chef had an overflowing ashtray right next to the meat bins. Rodent droppings, piles of dead flies behind the range, open doors to the outside, just nasty. We also had to check soda machines and the hoses and dispensers. The soda dispenser line at one place was so caked with mold and funk it was a miracle that soda could even get through, we couldn’t figure out how any previous inspector had missed that or what had happened. The soda dispenser was the worst because it ruined eating out and having a mixed drink, I’ll never be able to drink anything out of a soda dispenser ever again.
I got a better job offer after two months of that and ran out of that job.”
Making Sacrifices To The Gods?
“The most traumatic ones are always just the things you don’t expect.
Someone slaughtering a goat in the alley behind a restaurant.
A walk-in cooler filled with meat that was holding at a balmy 60 degrees, that hadn’t been opened in days.
Roaches falling on your arm when you get paper towels from the dispenser.
A pair of lady’s under-roos on the prep top.
Drying fish on the top of a minivan in the parking lot.
Raw fish in the ice machine.
I also do Hazmats in my job. We got a call about blood in a creek, so we go to investigate. Sure enough, the creek is red, so we follow it back to the outfall and look at our map and check the storm drains connected to it. Turned out to be a Chinese place’sold sweet and sour sauce into the storm drain.”
If They Aren’t Open Yet, It Doesn’t Count
“Not me, but my mom was inspecting a donut shop in California and saw someone changing a diaper on the dough prep table. Their excuse was ‘What?! We’re not open yet!'”
Is There Anywhere Safe To Eat?
“One thing to keep in mind is that most of the time health inspectors oversee more than restaurants; we also inspect swimming pools, spas, landfills, septic systems, underground storage tanks, etc.
I’ve had a woman ask me to remove a dead opossum from a spa so she could play with her infant in it (the spa).
I’ve closed restaurants and posted bright red signs signaling to the public that the place is closed, explained to them about how all of the food is spoiled due to no refrigeration, and that there are cockroaches everywhere…and people still beg to eat there.
A co-worker found a rat in a deep fryer that was in use.
Most hot water dispensers have slime growing in them.
Virtually every Indian restaurant is shut down yearly for a roach infestation.
Almost no one thaws meat correctly or safely.”
You’ll Never Eat Out Again
“Former health inspector here (and current third-party food safety auditor): A few things that come to mind:
A grocery store so infested with rodents that an entire group of them was living in the dairy cooler – you know there had to be a lot of them in the store if some were resorting to living in a cold room.
A Chinese restaurant getting ready to open for lunch. I walked in and temped the items in the walk-in cooler. All were well above acceptable temperatures. The cooler had broken down overnight and was no longer functioning. They wanted to serve the food anyway. I had to embargo the entire cooler worth of food and stood there as they filled trash bag after trash bag with meat and took it to the dumpster. As I was leaving the location, I drove around to the back, and they had employees pulling it all out of the trash and dragging it back into the building. Had to stop them, make them return it to the dumpster and pour straight bleach all over the food to ensure it could not be used.
Restaurant so infested with cockroaches that when the manager greeted me at the host stand to take me to the kitchen, he had a roach crawl across his back right in front of me.
I observed people smoking in the kitchens and meat departments of grocery stores. Also observed folks using chew and keeping their spit cups on the food prep surfaces.
Most of the stuff we think is disgusting isn’t necessarily what the general public would even notice. A lot revolves around handwashing- if you watch someone during food production and see all the things they touch and then attempt to handle ready to eat foods, it’s disgusting. People just don’t even think about handwashing as they should.”
Many Too Many Crickets
“I used to inspect fire alarms for grocery stores, and we had to open up the hoods above the grills to check the fire suppression system.
As soon as I pulled the panel off, dead crickets started pouring down. Thousands of them.
I wasn’t sure what to do at that point because I’m an alarm technician, not a health inspector so I verified that the alarm switch worked and put everything aside from the mountain of crickets now on the kitchen floor back where I found it and told the manager they should hire an exterminator. (The same store also had a black widow infestation in one of their utility sheds.)”
A Surprise At The Bottom!
“My dad was a health and hygiene officer in the air force back in the early ’50s and was stationed in England. His job included inspecting kitchen and latrine facilities at bases, overseeing quarantine on troops returning home from Europe, and doing health inspections on said troops.
He and some fellow H&H officers were on leave in London and decided to have lunch at a pub that was advertising a soup and sandwich deal. They sat down to piping hot bowls of tomato soup and were talking and eating when one of the guys said, ‘Mmm, good soup, nice and meaty.’
Everyone stopped talking as it sank in that tomato soup should not have meat in it, and my dad reluctantly dug his spoon to the bottom of his bowl and came up with several well-cooked cockroaches. Being trained in such things, they stormed into the kitchen and confirmed that the place had their soup heating on a back burner uncovered and directly below a cold water pipe. The rising steam condensed on the pipe made it slippery and caused whatever scurry across it to fall into the soup. They yelled at the owner and reported the place, but beyond that, they couldn’t do much about the unexpected protein.”