Deciphering Local Recent Restaurant Health Ratings
SAN ANGELO, TX – In order to maintain its citizens informed and up to date, the City’s Health Department provides a monthly list with the most recent health inspection restaurant evaluations. But with 550 food permits in the city of San Angelo, it’s impossible to visit every establishment every month, so what do those ratings really mean?
According to Health Inspector Kevin Little, of the San Angelo Health Department, the inspections are conducted to ensure the proper handling of food. This means that the main focus of the surprise visits are to make sure all kitchen personnel are up to date in the proper procedures of handling food and to protect patrons from getting sick.
Pathogens, salmonella, E.coli and other illnesses can be present in raw meats unexpectedly, so it is important that kitchen staff prevent any further spreading. The entire evaluation is based on the restaurants' ability to ensure this doesn’t occur. Also these evaluations only represent one inspection completed at one random time, and they are not necessarily a reflection of the way a kitchen typically operates, Little emphasized.
Health inspectors use the Texas Food Establishment Rules, or TFER, to grade restaurants. This is a 47 point evaluation created by the FDA and adopted by the state of Texas. This form covers things like regulations of temperature, protection form contamination, chemicals, water safety and ensuring there is a knowledgeable staff who knows and carries out the proper procedures.
When an inspector visits a restaurant, things such as the aesthetics of the restaurant are not the most important. An impeccable and pristine kitchen can be filled with several violations or unseen risks by the untrained eye. Similarly, a kitchen that appears to be dirty or not perfect can actually be up to code.
“Clean doesn’t always mean safe, and dirty doesn’t always mean dangerous,” Little reiterated.
Additionally, many of the latest scores on the City’s websites are from previous evaluations. With a limited staff and an abundant number of permits, it's not possible for City health inspectors to examine each one, so the restaurants or establishments are evaluated depending on the level of risk.
The San Angelo Health Department uses categories 1, 2, 3 and 4 to sort the restaurants. Places that handle large amounts of raw meat are considered at level four, meaning that inspectors will visit the restaurant four times a year. Places with smaller meat handling volumes, such as sandwich shops, are level three, and snow cone stands are level two. There are no level one establishments currently in San Angelo.
Restaurants like Rosa's Cafe & Tortilla Factory (on Knickerbocker), Outback Steakhouse, Twin Peaks, Texas Roadhouse and Fuentes Café Downtown have ratings over 90, 95 and 100 consistently. This speaks to their ability to run a safe kitchen and perform exceptionally during surprise inspections.
Yet occasionally, other local favorite restaurants receive low scores during inspections for a variety of reasons not explained on the health report available to the public. Thus, the best way to ensure the ratings are correct is by visiting the restaurants and judging for yourself the atmosphere the place has during the dining experience. Also, keeping in mind the evaluation listed may be several months old.
Places like Heff’s Burgers and Miss Hattie’s Cafe & Saloon are perfect examples of restaurants having lower scores on the latest reports. For the months of September and October, Heff’s was listed with a grade of 71, and by November, the report went up to 91.
“I know a lot of stuff just changed as far as the health code, so that helps as well.” Management at Heff’s said, in response as to the benefits of having health inspections and requiring restaurants to meet certain standards. “Having everyone be certified makes a huge difference.”
Additionally, Ms. Hattie’s Cafe & Saloon has sat at a constant 88 for September, October and November. However, Brenda Gunter, owner, clarified that evaluation was several months old and was not reflective of the restaurant at this moment.
“It’s a simple moment in time that they can come in and inspect you," she said. "A moment in time that isn’t perhaps not the same standard you use day to day or hour by hour. And our history with our scores has been very strong and very good, so, if you look at the history of how we rank, we do really good.”
As patrons, being vigilant and conscious of any health risks regarding the handling of food a restaurant might be exposed to is important. Patrons can contact the SAHD when they have reason to believe that an establishment’s procedures are putting the health of others at risk.
The latest Retail Food Establishment Inspections can be found here, and the San Angelo Health Department inspectors can be reached at (325)657-4493.