April 29, 2008 -- You're eating lunch at your favorite diner when suddenly
you spot a scrap of protein scampering across the table -- and it's not the
kind you're inclined to eat. A closer look reveals even more health code
violations. You wonder: Isn't the restaurant regularly inspected?
Restaurant inspections give a snapshot of an establishment's food safety
operations on a given day. Although most people know that the law calls for
routine inspections, a recent survey shows that more than half of adults
believe the checkups occur much more frequently than they actually do. Only a
third of those surveyed gave the correct answer -- that inspections take place
twice a year.
Researchers surveyed 2,000 English-speaking adults in Tennessee and found
that public perception regarding restaurant inspections there did not coincide
with reality. Most generally did not know how often restaurant inspections
occurred and were unaware of the consequences of poor inspection results.
"That consumers have a number of misconceptions and unrealistically high
expectations of the restaurant-inspection system was a major finding of this
large survey," Timothy F. Jones, MD, Tennessee Department of Health and
Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, says in a news release.
For example, a little over a third of those surveyed said the restaurant
should be closed immediately if it did not get an acceptable inspection score.
Most felt that employees who did not properly wash their hands should be fired
or fined right away. However, it is unusual for such harsh punishments to be
levied on an establishment because of a single inspection. Closure is generally
the result of several repeated offenses.
"When presented with a variety of scenarios, an overwhelming number of
respondents felt that public health responses to safety violations should be
far more draconian than they really are," Jones writes in the journal
Other survey findings:
Slightly more than two-thirds of respondents said they'd eat at a
restaurant that scored 80 or higher on an inspection (on a scale of 0 to
Forty-five percent needed a score above 90 before chowing down.
When asked how often restaurant inspections should occur, 53% said they
should occur at least 12 times a year.
Only 9% said that restaurants inspections should stick with the current
The team published the findings in the June 2008 issue of the American
Journal of Preventive Medicine.