Technology is allowing diners to peek into the kitchens of restaurants — and in some cases, it’s not a pretty picture.
In September, for example, inspectors from Public Health – Dayton & Montgomery County found mouse droppings on the floor of the stock room at the Waffle House on Needmore Road.
The violations were eventually addressed and the establishment was given a clean bill of health after subsequent inspections. The manager declined comment.
That information for Montgomery County food establishments has been available through the Public Health – Dayton & Montgomery County website since 2009.
A new state program is making restaurant inspection information from participating counties — along with other kinds of health reports — accessible to anybody who logs in. The new system will display detailed records, including everything from complaints to compliance with state standards.
Gene Phillips, chief of the state’s Bureau of Environmental Health, said work on the project began in 2012 and will be complete by the end of the year.
“We’re doing this to improve customer service,” said Phillips.
The project cost more than $1.3 million and includes the purchase and development of the software, user licenses and maintenance for 25 months. Once the system goes online, it will handle many kinds of health reports, including inspections at campgrounds, pools and other locations.
The state system, which is similar to one in Montgomery County, will allow consumers to search restaurant inspection reports using a business name or location.
The Clark County Combined Health District plans on being in the first wave of agencies placing inspection reports online.
“We feel it is the public’s right to know,” said Larry Shaffer, director of environmental health for Clark County.
It comes at no cost to local government agencies.
The agency has seven inspectors to check on 961 licensed vendors across the county. Floors, walls, closets, stock rooms, cooking areas and serving stations all must be inspected.
In Columbus, restaurant owners are supporting the trend toward more transparency on restaurant inspections, according to Scott Heimlich, president of the Central Ohio Restaurant Association and an owner of the Barcelona Bar and Restaurant.
“It is a guarantee to our guests that we operate a safe, clean environment,” Heimlich said.
Diners in Columbus don’t have to go to a website to view the health inspection reports. The city of posts the results on the front door of restaurants with a color-coded sticker.
A green sticker indicates the restaurant passed inspection and shows the date of the last on-site visit. Yellow stickers indicate the restaurant is facing the enforcement process while white stickers indicate a business is on probation.
Derek Allen, chairman of Hospitality Management and Culinary Science Arts at Sinclair Community College, said consumers can take steps to ensure they should look at the staff closely.
People handling food should not wear fingernail polish because it hides dirt, Allen said. Gloves should be worn by people handling ready-to-eat food.
Kitchen staff members who are touching food should not be handling money, Allen said, and customers should consider the appearance of the wait staff.
“If individuals look professional, more than likely the place is going to be professional,” said Allen.
Frank Leibold, certified executive chef at Sinclair, had one more bit of advice:
Ask your server. If a certain dish is not up standards, Leibold said, “servers will tell you, don’t eat that.”