Walking into any restaurant in North Carolina, customers can see a white card with a health inspection score on it. This score, ranging from 0.0 to 100.0 with an accompanying letter grade, alerts customers to how safe and clean an eating establishment is in order to mitigate potential foodborne illnesses.
Orange County currently has no restaurants with health inspection ratings below an A.
“That results from our department having a very good relationship with restaurants,” said Victoria Hudson, an Orange County Health Department food, lodging and institutions supervisor.
Restaurants are inspected up to four times per year. The number of inspections a restaurant receives is determined by a risk-based frequency. Restaurants with intricate menus that require multiple stages of preparation for the final product are inspected more often than restaurants that offer only a few items.
“A place that makes only sandwiches and smoothies are easier,” Hudson said. “Restaurants are evaluated for stages that food has to be in for the final product.”
On Franklin Street, Trolly Stop Hot Dogs is inspected only twice per year, whereas BSki's is inspected four times.
“We don’t serve any seafood, we don’t serve chicken,” said Eric Martin, Trolly Stop's general manager. “It’s all beef and pre-prepared items.”
During health inspections, the Health Department evaluates a restaurant’s foodborne illness risk factors, public health interventions and retail practices. Inspectors check food storage temperatures, the accessibility of hand-washing sinks, the state of equipment and the restaurant’s use of utensils.
Restaurants can get point deductions for seemingly small offenses. BSki's manager Medo Ghon said the restaurant, which has a score of 98.5, got points deducted on its last inspection because he was drinking coffee from a cup without a lid.
The rules for hand-washing are equally intricate. Hudson said there are five different kinds of hand-washing violations, such as turning a faucet off without a paper towel.
Restaurants given a B rating or below can request to be re-inspected within 15 days. Hudson said many violations are corrected during inspection.
North Carolina requires all restaurants have a certified food safety manager in the facility when food is being prepared and served. Orange County encourages restaurants to get certified through the ServSafe program.
Martin said ServSafe is part of the reason why the restaurant has had a score of 100 since it opened three years ago.
The health department does not tell restaurants when an inspector will come for an evaluation. Though Martin can guess when Trolly Stop will receive an inspection, he said their preparation doesn’t change.
“We keep things as clean and neat as possible,” Martin said. “Every one of the employees eats here, so we want the same thing, the same environment. We do everything by the books, and honestly it’s fairly easy.”
Even though Orange County restaurants have overwhelmingly positive health inspection scores, Hudson encourages customers to evaluate the numerical score, not just the letter grade, when deciding where to eat.
“I don’t think people use the grade card the way I want them to,” Hudson said. “Look at the number. The grade, it’s somewhat relative to what the score is and how much prep there is.”
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