If your weekend plans include heading out to grab a bite to eat, do you know if your local restaurant makes the grade? And even if it does, what exactly are restaurant investigators looking for?
Luigi Sartori said he knows nobody likes to see the health inspector show up at their door, but it's his job. And it's an important one.
As a health inspector for the city of Hartford, Sartori and his co-workers make surprise visits to more than 1,000 restaurants three or four times a year.
They check for things like food temperatures, both stored and prepared, the cleanliness of refrigerators and freezers, and how meats are stored before cooking.
The Front Street Bistro, the site of a practice inspection, passed it's latest test with an "A" rating, which is displayed on the front window. Hartford gives restaurants A, B, or failing grades. If a restaurant gets a B, it can request a reinspection, and if it fails a passing reinspection is required.
Nineteen of Hartford's 1,114 establishments recently got a failing grade, including a Dunkin Donuts on Maple Avenue. It failed for potentially hazardous food temperatures, employees not washing their hands at appropriate times and evidence of flies and mice. They have since been reinspected and got a perfect score.
The Au Bon Pain at Hartford Hospital also failed for employees not washing hands, fruit flies and dirty coolers, walls and shelves. They were reinspected last month and scored an A rating.
The Bocca Rossa wine bar also had potentially hazardous food temperatures, dirty coolers and soda nozzles, and greasy walls. After failing their inspection this month, they've recently scored a B and have requested another inspection to try and do better.
Inspectors said that just because a place gets a failing grade doesn't mean it will shut down, but if infractions are serious enough, they won't hesitate to take action.
"There have been situations where the place did not have a failing score, but it was so bad that they had to order an immediate closure and abate the situation," Sartori said.
He said he has a specific list of items he looks for, but mostly he just wants to make sure a restaurant is safe and feels he can leave after his inspection knowing its customers are well.
Every department in Connecticut follows a checklist during inspections, but each city or region has its own health department.
Turning out pies on Manchester's Broad Street, Giocanni Gisolfi has owned his own pizza shop for about a year. So far, he's been nearly perfect on his inspections.
"If we're not doing anything," he said. "We're cleaning. We make sure at the end of the night everything is put away the right way and our temperatures are right."
Gisolfi said he knows how important those random inspections are for his business, and the safety of his customers.
Out of more than 200 restaurants in Manchester, only two failed this year – Plaza Azteca and Hometown Buffet on Slater Street. Plaza Azteca was docked for not having hot food at the proper temperatures, storing raw beef above vegetables and not washing and sanitizing their lava rock bowls.
Hometown Buffet's only infraction was having shrimp and steak not hot enough, but the potentially hazardous temperatures were enough to fail the restaurant.
They passed reinspection with a perfect score.
Neither manager wanted to speak about what went wrong.
About a dozen more restaurants scored below a 90, which is the equivalent to a B rating in neighboring Hartford. One of them, Manchester Pizza, was docked for evidence of roaches.
The owner didn't want to speak, but assured Channel 3 Eyewitness News the problem was contained to a box from his beer distributor and was promptly fixed.
At CW's Chops N Catch on Hartford Road, owner Corey Wry said the inspections help him keep a pulse on his three restaurants.
"It helps to kind of point out to employees, ‘Hey, you need to work on this,'" Wry said. "You see it. It's written. Then it happens once or twice and it's easier to get on employees about training and things of that nature."
Earlier this year, CW's slipped below the 90 point park, but made sure to take note of what was wrong. The establishment appeared to be in good shape when Eyewitness News arrived unannounced and scored a 91 on its most recent inspection.
"You try to correct your mistakes, especially when they're big mistakes," Wry said. "But sometimes it can be something as simple as a dirty rag and they come in and the rag happens to be on the counter."
To read the full restaurant inspections in Hartford, click here.
To read the full restaurant inspections in Manchester, click here.
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