Technology is allowing diners to peek into the kitchens of restaurants — and in some cases, it’s not a pretty picture.
In September, inspectors from Public Health – Dayton & Montgomery County found mouse droppings on the floor of the stock room at the Waffle House on Needmore Road.
In July, inspectors found mouse droppings behind a freezer and dead roaches in the kitchen and stockroom of the China Royal Restaurant on North Main Street in Dayton.
And on three different occasions between February and May, inspectors found raccoon carcasses in the freezer and a rabbit carcass in a reach-in cooler at Napoleon’s Palace on Germantown Pike in Dayton.
The restaurant was written up for having food from unapproved sources. The inspection report noted, “Game animals must not be received for sale or service by a food service operation.”
At all three restaurants, the violations were eventually addressed and the establishments were given a clean bill of health after subsequent inspections. Managers declined comment at all three locations.
That information for Montgomery County food establishments has been available through the Public Health – Dayton & Montgomery County website since 2009. They can be accessed at http://www.inspections.phdmc.org/
A new state program is making such information from other counties across the state — 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.
Local health departments have an option to join the state network.
Since Montgomery and Greene counties have their own websites, they aren’t planning to join the state system. The Butler County Health Department is weighing whether to go on the state’s site because it is already in the process of making inspection reports available online.
“At this point, that’s going to be a relatively basic system across the state,” said Bill Wharton, spokesman for Public Health – Dayton & Montgomery County. “We think we provide a lot of additional information to the public the way our site is set up.”
Montgomery County’s system includes inspections of food establishments, school buildings, hotels and motels, correctional facilities, RV parks, manufactured home parks, swimming pools and spas, and tattoo businesses.
Health departments in the cities of Hamilton and Middletown won’t be buying into the program, according to officials there, who say they are worried about hidden costs. There is no cost to join the system providing counties have the equipment and IT support staff.
Middletown doesn’t have the money or resources to program inspections on a computer so the state can publish the reports online, said Jackie Phillips, the city’s health commissioner. She said the city has no plans to publish the findings of inspection reports, either, because it would be time consuming.
“We do inspections all of the time,” Phillips said. “They’re available as public records. Sometimes, (the reports) can be misleading to the public that this is a safe restaurant or unsafe restaurant. You could get an ‘A’ today and an ‘F’ tomorrow; it depends on the day.”
‘Public’s right to know’
Creation of the statewide system came just as Warren County was looking for an economical way to post inspection reports. Duane Stansbury, Health Commissioner of the Warren County Combined Health District, said once the county learned of the state initiative, it began preparing to join.
“A statewide system allows you to check out a restaurant anywhere in the state of Ohio, not just in the county where you live,” he said.
The Clark County Combined Health District also 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.
In Columbus, diners don’t have to go to a website to view inspection reports. The city posts the results on the front door of restaurants with a color-coded sticker.
Scott Heimlich, president of the Central Ohio Restaurant Association and an owner of the Barcelona Bar and Restaurant, said restaurant owners support the increased transparency.
“It is a guarantee to our guests that we operate a safe, clean environment,” Heimlich said.
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 diners should closely watch the staff while dining to ensure they have a safe eating experience.
“If individuals look professional, more than likely the place is going to be professional,” he said.
Frank Leibold, certified executive chef at Sinclair, had one more bit of advice: Ask your server. If a certain dish is not up standards, “servers will tell you ‘don’t eat that.’”
Staff Writer Amanda Seitz contributed to this report.
Safe dining tips
Watch for nail polish. People handling food should not wear fingernail polish because it hides dirt.
Gloves should be worn by people handling ready-to-eat food.
Kitchen staff members who touch food should not also handle money.
Source: Derek Allen, chairman of Hospitality Management and Culinary Science Arts at Sinclair Community College.