Of all the tasks San Juan Basin Public Health Department accomplishes every month, few are so public as the restaurant inspections.
Not because the actual inspections are publicized. They are not. Visits by inspectors are random and unannounced, but the results are published, complete with descriptions of the critical violations inspectors note – if any – during their visits.
The results of the department’s August inspections, which resulted in 129 written citations handed out during 34 inspections, were alarming, both in number and specific detail. The average number of food safety violations found from February through July was 20, so why the spike in violations?
Health department spokeswoman Claire Ninde could not pinpoint a specific cause for the increase, but it is likely that a variety of causes, including carelessness, is to blame. Could that be a result of a booming summer season, when numbers of tourists and family visitors to our area, and the number of meals they order in sometimes hectic eateries, reach an annual peak?
The results can also be viewed with a bit of perspective: Part of the increase is likely due to the fact that a year ago the health department increased its number of inspectors from one to three, allowing the agency to emphasize its policy of conducting thorough inspections. It should also be noted, as it is on our printed list of results, that in most cases the violations are minor and immediately corrected; often no follow-up inspection is required.
Still, there is a difference between reading that a restaurant was cited for having too much sanitizer in the solution used to clean surfaces, and reading that a restaurant’s double-digit number of citations include allowing cross-contamination between raw and ready-to-eat food, or that employees were observed not washing their hands when required.
We leave the decision whether to visit a restaurant or not, in view of the inspection results, between you and your appetite.
And we hope all in the food service business are aiming for the perfect results posted by several restaurants on the list. This is one case where we can agree that no news is the best news of all.