Health Inspection Ride-Along

Last week, Donnalyn from GGRA staff had the chance to go on a ride-along with a health inspector and visit two restaurants in the Tenderloin. After her experience, GGRA has decided to work with DPH to develop an informal inspection sheet, listing the top 10 to 20 things related to safe food handling/prep that a business should be aware of. The sheet will also include what restaurants should expect and be prepared for during an inspection visit. This inspection sheet will be available to our members on our website, and also provided in-person to new businesses prior to opening, in an effort to ensure they follow proper procedures from the beginning. We will keep you posted.

Read about Donnalyn’s experience below.

Last week, I had the opportunity to go on a ride-along with an inspector from the San Francisco Public Health Department as she visited two non-Member businesses in the Tenderloin, and the experience was one I will not forget. The relationship between the inspector and operator can often be a positive one, where the inspector acts as an instructor educating the operator on areas of improvement. The relationship can also, however, be difficult if either party forgets the other is there doing their job. In my experience, all parties were respectful. That being said, whenever inspectors walks into restaurants and identify themselves, no matter how politely, the staff if sure to become stressed.

I do want to mention that the inspector was professional and friendly even if having to deliver difficult news. Though the conditions and locations of each place we visited were worlds apart, the inspector spoke to and addressed each operator in the same manner. Both operators responded to the inspector in the same way.

The first location was just several blocks from City Hall and only 3 years old, and the foot traffic consisted of mostly working professionals. The restaurant had a few, minor “needs to improve”, but overall they were pretty clean. The restaurant was not full service but did a little bit of onsite food prep. They had clear evidence of regular pest control visits, and procedures in place if not properly documented, for receiving the food being prepped off site. The Person in Charge (PIC) was aware of most of what was happening, and the staff was well trained. The PIC is the individual who holds the Food Manager Certification and the person the inspector will ask to speak with when they visit.

The second restaurant was in many ways, the polar opposite of the first. They were a full service restaurant, in the middle of the Tenderloin, surrounded by SRO hotels, and in business (current owner) for 13 years. The PIC was the owner and she said she had taken the Food Manager Class but didn’t remember anything from it. The staff also seemed unclear about proper food prep/handling. It was also clear that the owner understood that things were not being properly handled, even if she didn’t know what the proper procedures should be; she unfortunately, relied on her chef who had never taken the food manager class. At the end of the day, the owner is responsible and should be, for the condition of the business and overseeing the proper training of staff. The inspector spent the first half hour of the visit doing mini on-the-spot training as she came across one issue after another until it became clear that the operation was struggling with a pest infestation too great for them to remain open. So with a dining room full of customers, and to-go phone orders coming in, the inspector informed the operator that she would need to stop serving, stop taking orders and close for the day. The operator was upset, but again clearly understood the reason and directed the staff to stop prepping.

After my visit, I struggled with issues that are clearly beyond the scope of the inspectors’ responsibilities, but still have such an impact on the business. First, it seems the owner is paying for pest control that is supposedly being handled by the building management because they run a hotel above her business. She pays monthly for pest control, but is never visited by a tech, and it was not clear whether she paid the building for this or paid a pest control company directly. Similarly, she pays for her dishwasher service monthly, but the washer has clearly not been operating correctly for some time based on the condition of the hoses. Finally, it appeared to me that her restaurant is bullied by local drug dealers and possibly even shook down for food. She told the inspector that drug dealers stand in front of her restaurant all day, and when she complained to the police they broke her window.

I know these areas are outside the scope and reason for my visit, but I can’t help and feel that though the restaurant in the Tenderloin most definitely deserved their score (and perhaps even a worse one), the social conditions in that neighborhood create barriers to successful inspections far steeper than for the first restaurant. It’s was a truly thought provoking day. And reminded me of how important our work is at the GGRA on behalf of small businesses.

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