Most of us like enjoying a meal out, whether it’s a burger at our favorite fast food place or a sit down meal at a “nice” restaurant.

But we want our dining out experience to be “clean.” To that end, I always enjoy perusing the Health Department ratings that run in The Advertiser-Gleam each month. Kudos to our health inspectors. They’re out there on the front lines making these inspections and making sure the county’s commercial kitchens aren’t doing something that might make us their patrons sick. It’s an important job.

We talked with someone “in the know” about the “magic number” for a health score.

85 seems to sort of be the base line, which is exactly what I’d thought it my mind it ought to be. I want the restaurants I dine in to have a high B or an A. Below 85 and I’m turned off a bit.

An 85, our friend told us, means the restaurant is compliant, that they are doing all the “critically important items” right.

But the friend also shared a caveat. The score is a “snapshot in time” of what was going on the particular day that the health inspector visited.

“It’s not a perfect science,” the person shared.

They also shared that these are difficult times for our friends in the restaurant business. We all know how hard help has been to find, in the food business and other industries. So they’re spread thin just like a lot of the rest of us which can make it even harder to get a good score.

Restaurants that do a really good job of making good scores get a perk. Normally, a restaurant is inspected by the Health Department once every 4 months. It is a surprise inspection. If you’re a restaurant manager or owner, you don’t know when the inspectors are going to show up.

Restaurants that score a 95 or better get their inspection interval moved out from every 4 months to every 6 months.

“They’re in control a little more, so the state can hold off a bit longer,” our friend said. “They’re self-regulating in a sense.”

Likewise, those that score below an 85 will see the inspectors a little more frequently. Instead of every 4 months, they will be inspected every 30 to 60 days.

If a restaurant drops below a 60, they must shut down immediately and “fix a whole lot of stuff.”

“Things go wrong,” our friend said. “Coolers break down. Plumbing backs up.”

If things like that are going on when an inspector shows up, it’s tough timing, so theoretically a “good” restaurant could have a bad score.

While most inspections are surprise, not all are.

The inspectors often have to arrange inspections of mobile food trucks, since they’re not open all the time and can be hard to catch open. That might be at least part of the reason food trucks often score very high on Health Department inspections. It’s a lot easier to make a good score if you know ahead of time the inspector is coming.

And there are also some really conscientious food truck operators who make a point of doing a good job and running a clean operation, just as with restaurant owners. 

It is a whole lot for a restaurant manager to keep under control, our friend noted. So when you see a good score, congratulate the folks who made it. Just like a test score, they worked hard to get it.

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