Restaurants: Are you safe eating there?

How Clean Is Your Favorite Restaurant?


Here’s a simple rule of thumb: The fancier the dining area and higher the prices at the restaurant, the nastier the kitchen (You don’t see their kitchen).   In general, your fast food hamburger joints are usually the cleanest kitchens… and they aren’t that clean (Their kitchens are exposed to their customers).

I’ve been in the commercial kitchen repair industry for some 30 plus years.  This involves the maintenance of equipment in restaurants, hospitals, schools, institutions, convenience stores, and even in some homes.

To this day there are some “eating joints” (fancy or not so fancy) in which I will not eat… because I’ve seen their kitchen.  When going out to eat with my wife and family they always ask that I not tell them about a “preferred” restaurant’s kitchen.  (Their belief is, “What they don’t know, won’t hurt them!”) Friends will call me to ask if they should eat in a certain restaurant.

Years ago, back when dinosaurs roamed… well, not quite that far back – I was working on a commercial dishwasher in the kitchen of one of the fanciest Mexican Menu restaurants in Charleston, South Carolina.

I heard a loud noise as something fell from the cook’s hands and hit the floor. It was a large stainless bowl of cooked “chicken tenders” that were to be chopped/stripped and used in many of the Mexican dishes.

The cook did not notice me watching him as he scraped them from in between the stress mats (floor mats) and put them back into the bowl.  Even without washing them he began to add them to his entreesHey, a little grit never hurt any chicken…Really! I remember them pecking the ground around my backyard when I was a kid.  Never saw one die from it!

Actually, he beat the “5 second” rule! And that, as we all know, makes it perfectly OK.  (Just to clarify, this was not an isolated incident at this restaurant.  The dishwasher was broken due to poor cleanliness measures within and without the machine.)

Parents of school age children… you can rest easy.  When it comes to working in school kitchens I’ve never serviced one that was “nasty”… in fact,  service techs usually enjoy and fight over assignments of school cafeterias.

Now, in fairness to the kitchen staff (especially, if it is a very busy restaurant at the usual breakfast, lunch, and dinner hours) – mishaps are going to happen.  If it’s a fast paced kitchen, stopping to clean up the mishap can be out of the question.

I’ve  seen health inspectors “gig” restaurants over stupid stuff that didn’t amount to a hill of beans… and because the inspector was having a bad day (taking it out on the restaurant). So, just because a restaurant got a low grade on their inspection does not mean they are unsafe.  For instance, I was in one kitchen when the inspector took off 10 points because an employee left a cleaning rag on the counter (The employee was in the process of wiping the counter).

There’s a difference in being “cluttered” and being “nasty”.  Most restaurants are just “cluttered”… especially during their busy meal hours.  If you really want to know about the cleanliness of your favorite restaurant, check it out.  Many of them are glad to let you see their kitchens… but don’t ask during their busy times.

You can also read their latest health inspection notice.  That’s why they are required to post the notice in public view.