A Ride-Along with the Health Inspector

The San Mateo County Department of Public Health gave Patch permission to come along during inspections to two restaurants.


Editor's Note: With of local restaurants being temporarily closed down , Patch thought it would be an eye-opening experience to tag along with an inspector for the San Mateo County Health System, and see just what goes on during inspections. So, Patch writer Adam Swart rode along with Christine Khine recently as she visited two Peninsula restaurants for inspections, and wrote this article about his experience.

Per the County Health System's request, the names of the two restaurants inspected during his ride-along are being kept confidential.


Health Inspector Christine Khine always begins every restaurant visit with a trip to the hand-washing station.

“I want to set a good example for the workers,” said Khine.

The first restaurant visit was a routine inspection. Restaurants such as the first establishment, which have full kitchen facilities and cook raw food, are typically inspected three times per year.

The inspection process is thorough and tests everything from the cooking facilities, to the refrigerators, to the content of the dish sanitizer. Though most inspections are conducted unannounced, for the purposes of this visit, the restaurant managers were told in advance of the inspection.

Khine stressed that unannounced inspections can give the Health Department greater insight into the normal operation of the restaurant.

“A restaurant is on its best behavior when they know about an inspection,” she explained.

As Khine entered the kitchen, she immediately pointed out minor points to fix. She explained that an error is not the same as a full violation, which must be fully reported, and can lead to penalties if not appropriately corrected.

One minor point that she stressed was an issue with the cleaning of the lettuce. Lettuce is required to be washed then sanitized. However, this restaurant was washing the lettuce after it was sanitized, which could wash off the sanitizer.

“Let it air-dry,” said Khine.

Khine also mentioned the issue of the temperature of the chicken. Chicken that is undercooked can be a major source of food-bourne diseases, many of which are very harmful and difficult to diagnose.

Though the chicken was kept above the mandatory temperature of 165 degrees at this restaurant, she recommended the restaurant proactively measure the temperature of the chicken themselves to avoid potential situations of undercooked chicken.

As Khine came to the grill, she noticed a more significant violation. The workers were using the same wrapper to touch raw beef as they were to touch the finished burger products. They were doing the same with the raw chicken.

Since the raw chicken or beef tissue could be contaminated, Khine emphasized that nothing that touches raw product should touch cooked product. The solution is to use dedicated tongs for raw meat that never touch finished products. In addition, she stressed that tongs should be dedicated to particular kinds of meat, so the raw chicken never touches the raw beef, and vice-versa.

In the grill area, Khine also took issue with the sanitizing cloth.

The cloth did not contain the appropriate amount of sanitizer, and as a result, could be spreading bacteria rather than killing it.

In addition, Khine expressed concern about workers who were wiping the sweat off their foreheads with their upper arms. Though it was not a violation, she recommended that paper towels be used instead.

As she continued on to the refrigerator section, Khine praised their proper storage of food. Particularly, the raw food was on the bottom and cooked food higher up. In addition, the temperature was below the requisite 41 degrees.

All kitchen workers are required to hold a Food Handler certificate, which requires a 2-hour online course that reviews the principles of food safety and costs $15. The course is offered in multiple languages.

At this establishment, one worker did not hold that certificate. The manager assured Khine that he would see to it that the worker received that certificate.

Before leaving, Khine reviewed the major points and informed the manager that she would return within the next week to do a follow-up inspection.

Next on the agenda was another Redwood City chain restaurant.

According to Khine, chain restaurants tend to be better in general on issues of food safety because they often have internal inspections ensuring quality.

This particular establishment, however, had a couple issues on its previous inspection, so Khine was returning to follow up.

Upon her arrival, Khine was greeted by the manager and the owner, who assured her that the violations were appropriately corrected.

The first violation was the lack of any staff with a Food Safety Certificate. The Food Safety Certificate is the next level of food safety training and entails a full-day class. Each restaurant is required to have at least one kitchen staff member with a Food Safety Certificate to ensure proper education of workers on safety issues.

The owner informed Khine that, since her last inspection, six staff members have received the Food Safety Certificate.

The second violation was the lack of paper towel use after hand-washing. Without properly wiping one’s hands, animal tissue residue can remain even after washing with soap.

Paper towels have since been put in place.

The third issue was the use of dirty aprons. When a worker wipes his hands on dirty aprons, his hands become filled with bacteria.

Workers have since been given two aprons each for use at peak times, and do not use aprons during other times.

Khine commended the owner and manager for attending to the issues mentioned and offered to do follow-up safety courses for employees if needed.

Khine regularly makes such an offer, for the purpose of educating employees.

Due to the potential negative impact that restaurants that were not inspected properly can have, Khine stressed the need to be very detail–oriented in the inspections.

“I take pride in the restaurants I inspect,” said Khine, who typically offers to work with restaurants regularly to resolve issues.

The County Health System has a process for resolving chronic issues.

Restaurants are given ample time to address issues, from warnings to formal hearings. The restaurants that are forced to close typically have a lack of food-safety knowledge, lack of cleanliness and a lack of hand-washing.

For more information about the San Mateo County Health System, visit http://smchealth.org/


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