Would Your Home Kitchen Pass A Health Department Inspection?

You might be reticent to eat in a restaurant that has done poorly on a recent health inspection, but be honest with yourself: would your kitchen pass the same kind of inspection? A writer for the New York Times wondered this, and invited a real live city inspector to examine his own home kitchen. He did not do well.

The inspection took place shortly before the author served a nice lunch to friends, but after hours of scrubbing and cleaning out. His score? A C-, or 77 points. His largest offense was having a too-warm refrigerator, and no thermometer in the fridge to inform him that it was too warm. Then, he was docked five points for owning a cat.

Would The City Shut Down Your Kitchen? [New York Times] (Thanks, Ann!)

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Edit Your Comment

  1. NarcolepticGirl says:

    Probably not – since I found a roach in the dishwasher yesterday.
    Of course, since I don’t do much cooking and we don’t have much food in the house (espeically meat) – maybe we would.

    • NarcolepticGirl says:

      especially, i meant.

      Also, the author of the NYT article annoyed me. Not sure why.

      • chaesar says:

        that is par for the course, I get the same from nearly every NPR personality (except the Car Talk guys)

      • Rectilinear Propagation says:

        Was it the part where he said, “I’m not killing my cat”? ‘Cause I was all, “???!”

        Maybe that line is funny when someone’s saying it but it print it’s just…weird.

  2. magnetic says:

    I think about this every time I am cooking for others. A long time ago, I read a thread on chowhound where everyone insisted that gifts of food were not acceptable because everyone else is so damned unsanitary. That really got me thinking.

    • Rachacha says:

      I had a relative that used to have a cat many years ago (when I was about 5 years old). She would leave the butter out all day long on the counter or kitchen table, and the cat would regularly jump up on the table and proceed to lick the butter. She would shoo the cat away from the butter, and off of the table, and invite us to sit down at the table and engage in some snacks…including bread and butter. My mother, who is somewhat of a germaphobe quickly scurried us out of there…can’t say that I blame her though.

      • nybiker says:

        Even if there was no cat (or other animal) in the house, just leaving the butter out on the counter all day long is bad enough. Of course, why you’d leave the butter out all day long then is another question.
        Still, as someone who is allergic to cats (sorry folks), I don’t want to see a cat or any animal licking any food I am going to be eating. Or for that matter walking on counter- and table-tops.

        • GuidedByLemons says:

          Been leaving butter out my whole life and never had a problem. It’s fine until it goes rancid, which takes longer than a stick of butter ever lasts for me. Refrigerated butter is not spreadable, and butter does not spoil at room temperature. I don’t see the problem.

          • Bativac says:

            Yeah, I agree with you. I’ve always kept butter out. As an adult I have it in a covered dish but as a kid, the butter was kind of out in the open. I haven’t died yet nor do I suffer any debilitating butter-related illnesses that I’m aware of.

          • myCatCracksMeUp says:

            I agree too. When the kids were at home we ate a lot more butter than we do now and we left it out, just like me mom and grandmom had. Now hubby and I hardly ever eat butter and the butter stays in the frige, so I have to remember to get it out earlier in the day if I think we’re going to use it later.

          • Fineous K. Douchenstein says:

            Agree. We’re just in a society now that believes everything should be purified and sterilized. A little exposure to dirt and germs is what keeps us healthy.

          • pecan 3.14159265 says:

            I just don’t like warm butter. I’m used to butter being cold, then warmed or left out if it needs to be. I also keep two different kinds of butter: spreadable (for bread) and the sticks you use for baking.

        • msgogo says:

          I have one of these contraptions http://www.reluctantgourmet.com/butter_crock.htm and it works out well- keeps anything that might get into or on the butter out, and I always have softened butterat the ready!

        • cosmic.charlie says:

          It is more of a northern thing. Walk into a house up in MN and you will find it for sure. Down in the heart of Dixie, not so much.

          • Rectilinear Propagation says:

            Yeah in the South it doesn’t stay soft as much as it would turn into liquid.

          • pecan 3.14159265 says:

            One of my old roommates insisted on leaving the butter out every single day, and it drove me nuts. She was from Alabama.

        • jesirose says:

          We use a butter bell, but sometimes we just leave the butter out. Well, let me clarify. My BF does this. When I moved in, it was easier to adapt to that habit of his than get him to put it in the fridge, when the butter bell keeps it & mold bug-free. So I learned quickly that it’s not actually gross.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      I’m not sure whether the people over at Chowhound took into account that eating food given as presents is pretty much the same as eating dinner at that person’s house. The difference is if the food gift was potentially improperly stored. I know what you mean, though.

  3. b612markt says:

    Judging by the infractions in the article, I think I’d get a mid 80s grade. I might get a refrigerator thermometer, but sanitizing my kitchen towels is just too strange.

  4. AI says:

    Hardly anyone would pass. Pretend to be disgusted all you want by the stuff you see on Kitchen Nightmares, but you know you’ve done it all before at home.

    • Awesome McAwesomeness says:

      Nor do we need to get an excellent grade. As long people keep their kitchen, sponges and towels clean and practice other very basic sanitation, things should be fine. Exposure to germs leads to a hearty immune system.

  5. rubicthecube says:

    I’d be ashamed to have the health inspectors come over to my place only to tell me that my kitchen is a cesspool of bacteria.

  6. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    This sounds stupid. The infractions seem to be for things unrelated to owning a restaurant.

    A cat? Who cares. And not everyone has a thermometer in their fridge. Big deal.

    • Rectilinear Propagation says:

      The infractions seem to be for things unrelated to owning a restaurant.

      How so? I’d think the refrigerator temp and thermometer would be related. Actually everything except the cat seems to be directly related and the only reason you never see cats in restaurants is because they’ve forbidden it.

    • hosehead says:

      Why a thermometer? $5 to make sure your food is safe. Simples, if you ask me…

      • AI says:

        To hell with that. I keep a case of Coors Light in there. If the mountain is blue, then it’s ‘Cold Certified’ and so is my fridge.

        • aja175 says:

          But that requires having coors light. The thermometer probably tastes better.

          • AI says:

            Kokanee has it now as well. I much prefer that. Coors Light is for golfing.

            • TheGreySpectre says:

              Both of those are to light for me. I prefer drinking Stouts and Porters (Dechutes brewery Black Butte Porter is delicious) no bottle I have ever seen comes with any temperature indicator.

              • AI says:

                I typically leave my fridge at 1degC just for beer. To hell with whatever else food is in there. My beer is important. Especially Guinness. A Guinness just isn’t right if it’s not extremely cold.

                • chargernj says:

                  Guinness should be served at cellar temperature (50-55 degrees). That is if you want it to taste like the brewer intended. but hey, it’s your beer.

                  • YouDidWhatNow? says:

                    Interestingly, Guiness packaging in the US says “serve ice cold” these days – because that’s how us ‘mercins like it.

                    While I generally am pretty damned tolerant about beer…Coors Light is beer only on a technicality. It’s mildly foamy water.

        • Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ã‚œ-゜ノ) says:

          In addition, I’ll probably paint a picture of the Rocky Mountains on the inside of my fridge.

    • AnonymousCoward says:

      Have you seen where the cat has been before it jumps on your counter? I have a cat too. I’m just sayin’…

    • tonberryqueen says:

      For a restaurant, it matters.

      I volunteer in the kitchen of a womens’ shelter, and we’re meticulous about these things. The walk-in fridge MUST maintain a set temperature. Bacteria could begin to grow if the temperature fluctuates, especially on meat or dairy. If the temp on the fridge is in a bad place for too long, the food has to be chucked for safety reasons. (And, believe me, temps can get pushed up, especially if it’s a 90+ degree day, you have four ovens on, no air conditioning, and people coming in and out of the fridge a lot.) Plus, if a motor on the fridge started to crap out and push the temp up just a little into the danger zone, you might never know until someone became ill.

      And in a commercial kitchen, you can be cited for things that home cooks would never think about, anyway. Put out dishes on the buffet that are fresh out of the commercial dishwasher–which washes at around 155 degrees and rinses at around 180? Citation. Wash dishes in said dishwasher *without* the cycles getting up to those temps to properly sanitize? Citation. Cut an onion and a potato on the same cutting board, with the same knife? Citation. No gloves? Citation. No changing gloves between touching different food items? Citation. Don’t heat leftovers up to the Serv Safe mandated level? Citation. And let’s not even get started on working with raw meat…

      These things do make sense for commercial and institutional food prep. When you’re feeding lots of people and using lots of different ingredients from different sources, you need to minimize contamination and bacterial growth.

      And, well, pets aren’t allowed in commercial kitchens. So if he’s holding his own kitchen up to commercial standards for the experiment…

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        My point is that it ISN’T a commercial kitchen. So holding it to that level of scrutiny is pointless.

        • jesirose says:

          Did you read the article? The inspector called him back later and told him she wanted to give him a better grade because she found the whole thing unfair too.

        • hosehead says:

          Keeping food stored at safe temperatures is as important in a home kitchen as it is in a commercial kitchen.

          Food poisoning sucks.

    • mac-phisto says:

      i don’t think the intention of the piece is really to see how clean a residential kitchen is – it’s to show (in a lighthearted manner) the scrutiny of the inspection process & illustrate what the new grading system means.

    • B says:

      The cat, I agree, but I have friends who got food poisoning from an improperly working fridge in their house. And a thermometer costs like $5.

  7. Rectilinear Propagation says:

    Everyone knows that your own germs and mess is still better than other people’s germs and mess.

  8. RandomHookup says:

    Of course not…but employment of illegal workers would skyrocket if we all had to pass.

  9. qbubbles says:

    I have two cats, I dont sanitize my towels, I know my freezer isnt cold enough, my dishwasher is in dire need of replacement, I dont feel like cleaning under the fridge, my sink is a tad too small for the hole on the counter so who knows what’s living in that crevice…

    All in all, I’d say I failed.

    Aint gotten sick, yet.

    • qbubbles says:

      Oh, and I know my exhaust hood doesnt work… because I was the one who replaced it, didnt notice that the previous one exhausted forwards and not up, and therefore, I dont have a hole for this new one to exhaust up. Lol.

      I figure, I can always open a window.

      • akiri423 says:

        When I was buying my house, my home inspector said he was about to be concerned about mold growing in my attic…then realized that the exhaust hood above the range only vented into the upper of the two attics, because when previous owners replaced the roof by adding a second layer and not replacing the original, they didn’t bother to extend the vent for the range hood all the way out of the new roof.

        Yeah. No more range hood. Window ftw.

    • Guppy06 says:

      You haven’t gotten sick because the germs you’d pass on are, by definition, ones you’re already carrying. If you start preparing meals for dozens or even hundreds of people who don’t already spend most of their day around you, though, you’ll find that they start catching that cold you got over last month, etc.

  10. rpm773 says:

    Yes, it would pass with no problems.

    I usually walk around with a thick roll of $100 bills in my pocket.

  11. Kitten Mittens says:

    The difference being that I know it’s my bodily fluid in the bouillabaisse at home.

  12. dulcinea47 says:

    The bit about the cats is kind of strange. Sure, they can transport bacteria, no doubt. But millions and millions of people have pet cats and no one is dying from it, or even getting sick all the time, or we’d know about it and no one would have cats.

    • Rectilinear Propagation says:

      Perhaps she’s worried about this:

      I heard about the thing with the rats on the radio and they were saying that the Toxoplasma gondii parasite could be why people become “crazy cat people”. It kinda sounds like a weird sci-fi movie: a parasite that ensures it will propagate by telling the brain of its host that it’s attracted to the animal the parasite needs to move to.

      • eturowski says:

        You’re much more likely to become infected with T. gondii after handling or eating uncooked meat. Most cats only shed for a few days once infected (usually as small kittens), and the shed oocysts are only infective after 24 hours in the environment. So… clean the litter box every day, and it’s not a problem.

        AAFP 2003 guidelines on feline zoonotic diseases: http://www.catvets.com/uploads/PDF/ZooFinal2003.pdf

        Human healthcare has blown the housecats-toxo link way out of proportion.

        • Rectilinear Propagation says:

          Yeah but it’s possible she doesn’t know that (I didn’t), likely even since it sounds like she doesn’t own any cats. If she does know that then maybe she was worried that he didn’t clean the litter box everyday.

    • mac-phisto says:

      would you prepare food on a countertop after i walked across it in my bare feet? how about if i sat on it bare-assed after an especially long sojourn in the privy (btw, you’re out of TP)?

      this is what cats do. we allow it. should you kill you cat? no, but you should probably sanitize your countertops before preparing food, especially if you have a cat. just because you cleaned it yesterday doesn’t mean it’s still clean today.

    • tonberryqueen says:

      Which is fine at home, and in a home kitchen. But it sure as hell wouldn’t be fine in a commercial kitchen, which is what he was measuring himself against.

      If I have to wash my hands, change my gloves, change my cutting board, change my knife, and sanitize my prep area when switching between food items…I’m pretty sure a cat shouldn’t be wandering around those areas.

      Also, you have to wear a hairnet/hat/bandana to cover your hair in a commercial kitchen. Maybe if kitty wore a full-body hairnet?

  13. Etoiles says:

    Our fridge has two settings:

    (1) ice cream melts, and
    (2) lettuce freezes.

    We try to keep it set in-between.

    I anticipate never actually owning my own home and therefore never actually owning my own fridge, so I’ll just accept my failing grade.

    • crackers says:

      My fridge has the same two temperatures! Hilariously, I DO own my own home (and thus, my fridge) but can’t afford a better appliance at the moment. Sigh…

    • Powerlurker says:

      Um, your ice cream SHOULD melt if it’s in the fridge. Ice cream belongs in the freezer.

  14. Rachacha says:

    One also needs to take into consideration that restaurant kitchens are designed to help keep them clean and comply with health regulations. All of the “cabinets” and appliances sit on 6″ legs so that the areas under the appliances can be swept and mopped on a regular basis. Cutting boards are typically a solid surface material that is sanitized and scrubbed frequently and often placed in a dishwasher, hot water is hotter than typical residental water to aid in the killing of bacteria. All surfaces are made of stainless steel so there are no porus materials that bacteria can be absorbed into, and these surfaces can easily be scrubbed and sanitized. Most residental kitchens are not constructed in this manner so they are typically more difficult to clean. On the plus side, in an average evening, I feed 4 people for dinner, while a restaurant can feed thousands.

    • twonewfs says:

      I’ve worked in a bunch of restaurants – one a ‘famous’ chef’s. The filth was incredible – but his restaurants passed inspection (New York has a good reputation for inspections, Boston – meh!) I also worked for another chef whose kitchens were spotless and sanitary. Unless you know someone in the industry, it’s a crapshoot.

      • CBenji says:

        I have to agree with you on this. I worked in a small town in PA for a year. I worked there on average of 60 hours a week. Sometimes we had a woman come in to do the cooking who was so mentally disabled that she had no idea what she was serving. It was scary. The entire time I worked there I never once witnessed any kind of inspector of any kind. It was a pig pen, but it was probably just about average for the area.

      • richcreamerybutter says:

        No to mention, they tend to give the establishment a heads-up approximately when the inspection is to take place (during weekday business hours, from my NYC restaurant experience). However, I did notice a health inspector at a bar during the evening recently, and it appeared to be a surprise visit.

  15. Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

    I’m on the board of two community groups that work under the umbrella of a local non-profit that handles our book keeping and tax compliance. For our fundraisers, they essentially have one rule — no food can be served or sold. If an outbreak of food poisoning arises, they don’t want to face the inevitable lawsuits as a result.

    It’s very had to have any kind of legal defense when you can’t prove that you’re facilities were health code compliant and have appropriate engineering controls to prevent these issues. A simple bake sale can be an enormous liability for a small non-profit w/no legal defense fund.

  16. outlulz says:

    Yet he doesn’t get sick every time he cooks.

  17. Raekwon says:

    I’m screwed.

    I own a cat (though he is good about staying off tables and counters)
    My dishtowels are dirty unless the smell gets too funky
    I use sponges to clean dishes and counters
    Leftovers sit out far too long
    Microwave is perpetually dirty
    Old owners of the house had mice and despite my best efforts I still have trouble finding all the spots they frequented
    I wash hands in the sink which is normally full of dirty dishes
    I have a carpet thing on the floor in front of the sink which is impossible to clean frequently
    I have one of those nasty pull out wooden cutting boards though I refuse to use it.

  18. packy says:

    Ben, you got the scale wrong on the grade. That 77 wasn’t 77 points out of 100, where 100 is a perfect score. That’s 77 points worth of VIOLATIONS, where ZERO is the perfect grade. From the article: “An A denotes zero to 13 points worth of violations; B, 14 to 27; C, 28 or more.” I was listening to the NYTimes Front Page podcast, and they characterized the writer’s score as an F.

  19. MrAgen10 says:

    Maybe it’s my OCD tendencies, but I have a strange phobia of my food getting too warm in the fridge/freezer. I bought a couple thermometers and have them in both, and every time I open the door, I check the temperature.

    I also sanitize the counters, knobs/pulls, faucet handles, and anything else you touch once or twice a week, (and everytime after handling raw meat). Plus, I’m always checking for leaks and investigating odd smells.

    Yeah, it’s probably overboard, but like I said, I’m a little OCD. :)

  20. bobosgirl says:

    That’s a great article! I admit that while I keep a really clean kitchen, I am guilty of the “don’t keep food on the counter too long” rule. I am usually trying to tackle several things at once, and my husband is always nagging me to finish putting food away. But not washing my hands in the kitchen sink? Ain’t gonna happen. I’m not traipsin’ off to the bathroom with hands covered with meat juice, etc. when I can wash my hands with my Bath & Bodyworks kitchen lemon antibac. soap and then continue cooking.

  21. katarzyna says:

    The inspector would watch my cats for 30 seconds and give me an automatic F.

  22. shaner55418 says:

    Unless everything in your home kitchen is NSF or UL Sanitation approved for commercial foodservice use, and you are HAACP certified, NO kitchen would pass a home health inspection. Even some commercial kitchens don’t pass despite properly approved equipment, due solely to the inspector’s discretion. If they don’t like something, even if 100 other jurisdictions would allow it, it has to go.

  23. fedupbs says:

    Only a state controlled media attempt ot push the gov into telling us that we can be trusted to cook for ourselves – and that home cooking should be banned and/or regulated………..

    Pffft not impressed

  24. Frank The Tank says:

    Ummm…wow…i guess most people would also be shocked to learn that 98% of all restaurants/commercial kitchens have cockroaches? it’s an inevitable fact and if you don’t agree….then you’ve never been into an actual kitchen.

  25. GameHen says:

    Well a commercial kitchen has dozens of people working in it and trapsing through. The customer doesn’t have the luxury of knowing the individuals handling their food as they would a friend where they can make a somewhat informed decision on their personal hygiene and therefore decide to “take the risk” of eating their food.

    Do people get sick from their own kitchens from time to time…sure. Does this article influence me to go easier on restaurants and the grade they get from the health department? No way.

  26. OnePumpChump says:

    It probably wouldn’t, but there aren’t a bunch of people I don’t know with diseases I don’t have working in it, either.

  27. sugarplum says:

    I’d much rather eat after my cat than (most) people.

  28. Saltpork says:

    My kitchen would definitely not pass inspection.
    I work full time and go to school full time, so I don’t have time to clean everything every day.

    The floor is cleaned once a month.
    The counters are wiped down before use.
    Dishes are left to dry after being run through the dishwasher.
    Hand towels go into normal laundry.
    I keep open drinks in the kitchen while I cook.
    I do not use gloves(unless I’m butchering).
    My fridge is not kept clean.
    I occasionally have ant problems.
    I try to clean all my cookware the same day, but it doesn’t always happen. I have limited space for air drying.

    I do wash my hands before handling food and I make sure to use extremely hot(200+ F) water on my knives and cookware.
    All my dishes are left to air dry over night before storage in cabinets.
    I have a thermometer in my fridge and one in my oven.
    I also have one in my deep freeze, but that’s not in the kitchen.

  29. dilbert69 says:

    No one owns a cat. Cats own you.

  30. Intheknow says:

    I just have a irrational phobia of eating food cooked by other people. I KNOW it makes no sense, but I can’t help it.

  31. Intheknow says:

    There’s something to be said for a “few” bacteria around the kitchen and house in general. You CAN be too clean you know. I’m very careful with meat and eggs, but having been a restaurant manager I know what the safety rules are and what can slide a bit. I’m a little obsessive about towels and sponges (washing at LEAST daily) and my cutting board. Meh, the rest is kind of subjective.

  32. TheMonkeyKing says:

    My grade is an 88, based on NC standards. But then again I’m a Nazi in my kitchen.