All In Day’s Work
“I walked into a restaurant in the morning before the lunch rush and saw the cooks actively prepping raw chicken in the dirty mop sink. The cook said that the cooking process would make it safe to eat.
-I walked into a taco shop and found a reach down cooler infested with German cockroaches. When I brought it to the owner’s attention, he was in denial and said that the health department was constantly trying to ‘pick on the little guys.’ As he was talking, a full adult cockroach appeared on the counter and without hesitation, he took the knife used to cut burritos, stabbed it, then began to place the knife back to its original location.
-I once received a complaint of a heavy grease smell coming from a restaurant. Showed up and saw that the owner had been dumping grease outside because his drains were clogged and backing up. Every floor drain he had was actively overflowing and there was sewage all over the floor. Since his drain lines were installed incorrectly, all of the sewage water back-siphoned into the ice machine and food prep sink. While this was all happening, they were still serving food and taking orders as if it wasn’t a big deal. The cook would cut chicken, then switch to use a plunger on the drains then back to cutting chicken without ever washing his hands.
-I once walked into a market with an owner who was visibly nervous. As we were talking, I noticed a large amount of blood in the drains. There was also a lot of black bags containing meat products with no labels or proof of where they purchased it. As I lifted the drain cover, there was blood and bones inside. Later found out that the staff was bringing live goats into the kitchen and killing them on site.”
Guests Probably Wouldn’t Like The Ice Cream So Much If They Knew The Secret Ingredient
“I was inspecting a high-end Thai place in a popular tourist area of New York City. I went downstairs to the kitchen and opened up their freezer. On the top shelf of the freezer, they were storing loose beef, pork, and chicken in three separate piles. The meats were not in any containers. They were all sitting on a large piece of cardboard the restaurant had placed on the bottom of the shelf.
We poked the cardboard and our finger went right through it. The juices from the three types of meat had turned the cardboard into pulp. We then noticed the drippings from the combined sludge of chicken, pork, and beef blood. From the looks of the cardboard, it had been dripping for a while.
We looked to the shelf below to see the results of the drip. Underneath the meats, in the shelf second from the top, the restaurant was storing three buckets of ice cream. Without lids. Directly under the meat drip.
We looked inside the ice cream containers and saw congealed, partially frozen, cardboard-laced raw-meat drippings, pooled in the center of each tub of ice cream. None of the ice creams were more than halfway full.
We ask the kitchen manager how long they’ve been storing their items like this. He doesn’t remember. At least a few months.
My theory is because the place was:
A) a ‘nice’ restaurant and
B) an ‘ethnic’ restaurant, patrons were less likely to complain about odd flavors. For example, instead of complaining about blood in the ice cream, they wondered out loud if that taste was star anise.
That’s one of the few inspections that made me feel physically sick. The place still got an A because the restaurant grade system in my city is about as effective as the TSA.”
Their Meats Were Constantly In The “Danger Zone”
“The worst I’ve heard between my co-workers is a place that had mice floating in buckets in the basement with severe soiling of all surfaces. It was closed until they could clean it up.
The worst I’ve inspected, at least in terms of public health safety, was a place that let their sandwich making food sit out on a countertop without any cooling, and they were also using a residential dishwasher that couldn’t sanitize their dishes. The owner didn’t manage any of their employees (owners make a huge difference; it’s super obvious if they’re consistently involved and care).
We know the back of the house gets warned and all chefs/staff throw on gloves real quick, but it’s easy to spot when something is a chronic issue. Sometimes we are limited in our actions, though – and it varies by departments. Some have more teeth than others.”
We Found The Culprit
“I once finished up a foodborne illness investigation, not finding much that could have caused the illness, and left. I parked my car on the other side of the street in full view of the restaurant. I watched the dishwasher come out the back door, have a smoke, then hunch over and puke all over the grass. Then he took another drag and went back inside. I have mild emetophobia (basically a fear of vomit) so I got a bit of a cold sweat, then ran across the street and basically dragged him outside. I can’t force anyone to go to the doctor and be diagnosed, but it’s likely that he had food poisoning and was spreading it to others.”
Don’t Buy Sausage From Someone’s Home
“I am a health inspector and here are my top three stories:
I was at an old convenience store, which had once been the front unit of a housing duplex but had now converted into a full-service deli (sandwiches, fried chicken, etc.) without a plan review, so they were severely lacking in all the proper space and equipment. Observed were:
-Rat infestation; droppings were everywhere in the place.
-Mountains of old cast-off equipment in the back (giving the rats a home).
-Meat defrosting on the hood of an inoperable car on the side alley.
-The back unit of the duplex (now converted to food storage) had unfinished wooden boards on the floor, which were now soft and rotting from soaking up years of meat juice and everything else.
While inspecting a Chinese buffet, I noted to the employees that there were tubs of frozen fried shrimp stacked on top of one another without covers, so they needed to discard the top layers of the food and put on the tub lids. As they scrambled to do so, they knocked over the tower of shrimp, spilling it everywhere. As I was standing there, they hurriedly started scooping the shrimp off the floor and back into the tubs. I’M STANDING RIGHT HERE, YOU GUYS.
A guy ordered commercial sausage-making equipment delivered to his home. The manufacturer got suspicious and tipped off the health department. The guy would go hunting all sorts of exotic game meat without permits, process them into sausages in his rat-infested garage (droppings the size of jelly beans), and was selling them to the public.
Don’t buy food from ‘home cooks’ unless you know them. We’re not saying an unlicensed food vendor is definitely filthy, but we don’t know! It hasn’t been reviewed by a health inspector and we don’t know if the cooks are trained in food safety so to err on the side of caution, we have to say no.”
A Bed Of Roaches
“I was a health inspector long ago. One time at a Golden Corral, I going through the kitchen area, and as I was squatting down to check a dishwasher, my foot broke through the tile floor and into a sewer pipe that ran underneath. Cockroaches came running out of the hole. It turns out, the entire floor was rotten from a water leak in the sewer pipe.
I definitely screamed and dry heaved when the roaches broke through. I made a point to not eat the morning of when I was going to inspect a restaurant I knew might have some violations. The smell alone was enough to make me gag at some places. Good news is that skipping meals is a great way to lose weight.”
Best/worst part? The general manager tried to fight me when I told them they had to close down until they fixed the open hole into a pipe full of cockroaches and waste. The threats happened about half an hour later after I had finished writing up the report. When he saw that they would be closed completely until the violation was addressed AND they had passed a second inspection (rather than being given 72 hours to fix it while remaining open as is standard for minor things like slime in a soda machine) he lost his temper and took up a boxer’s stance.”
I Wonder Why These Lobsters Were So Cheap
“My stepmother is the lead health inspector for a decent sized suburban town. While I have never asked what the worst thing she has witnessed as part of her job was, I do know of one instance that was pretty gross.
A truck full of lobsters was traveling down the highway and crashed. The police came and eventually, they towed the truck. As a board of health inspector, my stepmother was consulted to see if any of the lobsters were viable and she told them no, the load was a total loss since there were lobsters scattered across the highway covered in dirt and other debris.
Fast forward 24 hours. One of the restaurants in town ran a special: twin lobsters for $19.99! Apparently, the owner of the trucking/towing company knew the restaurant owner pretty well, so they made a deal whereby the restaurant would pay a very discounted price for the ‘road lobsters.’ The restaurant would turn around and illegally serve the lobsters to unsuspecting customers or sell them out of a truck behind behind the restaurant.
I’m not sure what the repercussions were, but I think they were shut down for a week. They closed shortly thereafter and now there’s a new restaurant there. The towing company lost their contract to tow vehicles/semi trucks with the town and state.”
Rats. And More Rats. And Even More Rats.
“I work for a local council in the UK and was asked by our Environmental Health officer (EHO) to assist with a rat infestation. They wanted me to arrange for the tunnels that the rat’s had burrowed to be filled with concrete. We followed the tunnels along the footway and into the kitchen of a ‘World Bar and Grill’ (one of those buffet places that do food from all around the world as an all you can eat deal). These tunnels were small, but once we got into the kitchen, there were over 200 rats; they were in and on everything, droppings everywhere, nests everywhere, the place was disgusting. I should point out these rats had been there for up to six months and the restaurant was still open up until the day of the inspection.
The guy who owned the place offered to pay extra if we could do it quickly so he could re-open. The EHO laughed and said the place was going to be condemned unless he was happy to eat food off the floor.”
Some “Unexpected Protein”
“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.”
He Was Just Feeding His Friend
“When my son was 5 or so, we had a nanny who used to look after him and she used to take him to a local pub where one of her friends worked. He got used to sitting at the bar, eating a packet of crisps (chips) and drinking a soda.
The nanny and her friend were around the corner in the other bar chatting away when a couple of besuited gentlemen wandered into the bar. My son was laying a line of crisps along the bar, and one of the gents started talking to him. It’s worth noting that the regulars in the bar were used to him being there and often referred to him as the boss. They let him pour them drinks and so-on, ostensibly under the supervision of the bar staff. Needless to say, it’s illegal for 5-year-olds to be employed as bar staff, even in the UK.
‘I’m in charge here. Would you like a drink?’ offered my son, scooting around the back of the bar.
‘No, it’s ok, thanks. What are the crisps for?’
‘Oh, I’m feeding my friend,’ my son replied.
‘Really, where’s your friend?’
‘He lives in that little hole.’
My son pointed to a hole in the wall towards the end of the bar. ‘And sometimes he comes out and I feed him.’ On cue, a small mouse appeared out of the hole, ran along the bar, and started eating the crisps.
The men were environmental health officers. The pub was shut down that week, and never re-opened. Luckily, they weren’t police (otherwise the nanny’s friend would have been in serious trouble).”
He Had To Shut It Down
“I’ve got quite a few. Mexican restaurants, Chinese, and Italian restaurants are typically the most egregious offenders. Which 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 actually 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 they were in violation, 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.
We were not legally allowed to investigate or inspect restaurants who didn’t have a permit (you can thank the U.S. Constitution for that). You can see the dilemma. We decided 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 got permission to go in and take a look around, I was appalled: the manager had 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 were dressed in filthy uniforms. The walk-in cooler had loads of uncovered food sitting beneath stalactites of mold, all beneath a ceiling of black filamentous fungi. The pizza-prep table had broken doors/hinges and was covered with what I can only describe as putrified ingredients from 2003. It clearly hadn’t been cleaned since then. The plastic containers holding the food items in the cooler were all breaking apart and chipping… At this point, I had a few ideas as to what that guy found in his pizza, and I don’t think any of them were glass. It was probably a fingernail, or a band-aid, or plastic, or maybe broken metal from the cooler itself.
Then I saw 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 was absolutely caked in dried, vile, pizza sauce goop that had turned black with age. The blade itself was so dull and chipped, it was peeling metal filaments off into a mass next to the blade. Every time this thing was used to open a new pizza sauce (which, by the way, was put into a cracked plastic container and covered with a trash bag to keep loads of flies away) it deposited metal chips, flakes, filaments, whatever you wanna 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 backup, and we formally closed them for operation until they could get everything back into working order. Surprise surprise, they called the next day saying everything was fixed, and… I couldn’t believe it, but it was. Managerial lack of control aside, they must have spent a $1,000 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.”
His Frustration Got The Better Of Him That Day
“I performed food safety inspection at a large slaughterhouse for a while. We did our own inspections each shift and the government inspector stopped by once a day too.
One day, I came around a corner and one of the workers who was running service for the butchers dropped a ham on the floor. So, the proper way to handle this for him was to leave it there and call for a re-inspector to come to pick it up, take it out to carve off any contaminated bits, then rinse it in boiling water.
Now, meat was dropped on the floor relatively often; it’s just very, very hard to avoid it when running in a factory setting with human labor. So this was common – what was uncommon was what the guy did next.
First, he tried catching it as it fell, which would’ve been fine – no contact with any surface and he could’ve just thrown it back into the tub it had fallen out of. He didn’t catch it though, and it landed on the floor. Thinking that no one was watching, he tried picking it up and dropped it again. He did this three times. So first and foremost, he was not supposed to be touching anything that’s been on the floor. It cross-contaminated his hands and he had nowhere to put the contaminated product anyway. But he did this, three times, and dropped it three times (freshly carved hams can be slippery when wearing vinyl gloves). He then, out of pure frustration/annoyance at the unwieldy ham, dropped down on all fours and proceeded to pick up the raw, freshly cut, six-kilogram ham – by his teeth. Stood up, ham dangling from his chompers – and dropped it into the tub with around 600kg of product – and drove off with the tub for processing.
I followed him and let him park the tub before I let out a very cliche ‘Ahem’ type of scene. He was fired a few minutes after that and the entire tub of product was discarded.”
After Seeing The Hairy Owner, He Thought He Knew The Source Of The Mystery Hair
“My uncle is a health inspector in rural Australia. He got several complaints about a fish n chips shop in a small town in Victoria, with reports of it being a bit grotty and people getting chunks of hair in their hot chips.
So he rocks up one day unannounced on a blazing hot day in the middle of summer and the owner greets him and shows him around. The owner’s only wearing a white tank top with sweat patches under the arms, short shorts, and no shoes. This guy’s body is covered in hair. Not just on his arms and chest, but his back and neck were like a werewolf. Clearly, this must be the source of the hair in the chips. My uncle decides to make a tactful comment about having to wear appropriate attire when working, so as to protect against hot oil burns.
After seeing the property and giving a few basic suggestions, the only other thing he notices that needs immediate attention is the deep fryer itself. The oil is old and filthy, and likely full of this guys hair, so he orders the bloke to drain it out right then and there. The owner does so and at the bottom of the oil vat is a dead, deep fried and crispy….cat. Totally unphased, the owner simply says, ‘Oh, that’s where my cat went!’
Turns out, a few months previously the shop was having a rodent problem, so the owner brought in a cat to catch them. He thought the cat escaped overnight and ran away. Nope. Looks like little Fluffy drowned in the deep-frying oil, and Mr. Chippy has been frying him up over and over and over again ever since. The clumps of hair locals were complaining about weren’t from the half-man-half-wolf owner, but the fur and flesh of a dead cat.”