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 article.
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 100).
- 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 twice-a-year schedule.
The team published the findings in the June 2008 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.