Does your favorite restaurant follow all government regulations designed to help keep the food it serves safe?
Health inspection reports can give you a rare glimpse inside the kitchen. And the Belleville News-Democrat has created a searchable database you can use to find out what health inspectors have reported seeing at restaurants in St. Clair County so far this year.
The county has a total of 1,028 restaurants, which undergo unannounced routine inspections two to three times a year. Health inspectors might also visit a restaurant to investigate a complaint or to follow up on issues they identify during a routine inspection.
The BND plans to update its Metro East restaurant inspection database monthly to provide readers with the latest inspection results.
If the details of an inspection report posted to the database need clarification, restaurant owners and managers can contact reporter Jennifer Green at 618-239-2643 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Before you start searching, here are some caveats to keep in mind and some tips for using the database:
What to know about restaurant inspections
Restaurant inspection results are a snapshot based on what health inspectors saw on the day of their visit.
Health inspectors verify compliance with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Food Code, a 644-page document outlining ways to reduce the risk of food poisoning and other best practices for the food industry. restoration.
Violations are common, according to Sharon Valentine, who oversees St. Clair County Health Department inspections as director of environmental programs. But some are considered more serious than others. Regulators classify them like this:
- Priority: These are the most serious violations because they directly affect food safety at critical stages like cooking, reheating or cooling, and hand washing, all of which can make people sick if done incorrectly.
- Priority Foundation: These violations involve problems with the training, procedures, infrastructure or equipment necessary for employees to cook, heat or chill food and wash their hands.
- Heart: These violations are less directly related to food safety. They can involve general cleanliness, maintenance, and other issues.
Valentine says priority violations are the ones diners should be most concerned about, especially food temperature. Health inspectors check the temperature of hot and cold food in restaurants to see if it’s in the range where harmful bacteria grow best: 41 to 135 degrees.
Sometimes violations are corrected during the inspection. Foods in this temperature range, for example, could be tossed, reheated, or chilled over ice. Sanitary inspectors note on-site corrections in their reports.
In 2019, Illinois stopped using scores to assess restaurants’ overall compliance with government regulations after an inspection.
The Illinois Department of Public Health and the FDA noted that a disadvantage of a rating system is that it is possible for a restaurant or other food establishment to score high while “showing very serious shortcomings”.
What to Know About BND’s Metro East Restaurant Inspection Database
Here’s some useful information about the database, including tips for finding what you’re looking for:
- Each horizontal row in the database represents one inspection. Some restaurants have been inspected more than once.
- If you type a restaurant name or city name in the database search bar, it will filter the database so that you only see inspection results for that restaurant or city. city.
- If you find a violation of concern, you can search for the name of the restaurant to check for follow-up inspections that may have determined whether or not the violation was subsequently corrected.
- You can also filter the database for other terms that may appear in reports. For example, typing “insects” or “rodents” in the search bar will show you where inspectors noted they saw pests. If you want to see where food temperature violations have been observed, you can type “proper cold holding temperatures”, “proper warm holding temperatures” or “proper reheating procedures for hot holding” in the bar of research.
The information in the “violations” column of the database is taken verbatim from comments made by St. Clair County health inspectors in their reports, with two exceptions:
We omitted references to specific sections of the FDA food code – such as “3-501.17” – and instead gave you the name of the section – such as “Ready-to-eat, time/temperature control for food safety, date marking”.
We have also clarified abbreviations frequently used by inspectors, such as “COS”, which stands for corrected in place.
Here are the definitions of food industry jargon contained in the reports:
- Category I, II and III establishments: Places that serve food are classified according to the level of risk of food poisoning. Their category determines how often they are inspected. The riskiest environments are Category I establishments, which prepare meals from raw ingredients; they are inspected three times a year. Category II establishments reheat store-bought frozen foods and other pre-prepared foods. Category III establishments only serve pre-packaged food that they do not have to cook or reheat. In St. Clair County, Class II and III establishments are inspected twice a year.
- Hazard analysis and critical control point: A system for preparing food safely that covers steps such as cooking or reheating temperatures of specific foods to prevent food poisoning.
- Time/temperature control for safety food: Foods that must be cooked, reheated or cooled to specific temperatures to prevent the growth of bacteria.
How to report a possible health code violation
Health departments are investigating reports from the public of suspected food poisoning and concerns about restaurant sanitary conditions.
You can file a complaint with the St. Clair County Health Department by calling 618-233-7769 or emailing SCCHDenvironment@co.st-clair.il.us.