COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM/WXTX) - When eating out, do you ever stop to scope out the restaurant's scorecard before filling your tummy?
Our Roslyn Giles uncovers what those ratings really mean and why you should always consider the writing on the wall.
From fast foods to fine dining, the food frenzy rages on. Let's face it, most of us love to eat whether it's French fries, soul food or healthy treats.
"I've gotten sick one time at a restaurant," said Robert Riley.
Riley knows the risks of consuming contaminated food all too well.
Food Inspector Ashley Basset is one of six Environmental Health Specialists with the Columbus Department of Public Health.
Their job is to ensure 600 restaurants in the valley area are following state guidelines to avoid foodborne illnesses.
"We have had to shut down facilities yes, but that's very rare," Basset said.
What isn't rare are the risks associated with people getting sick if food safety protocols are not followed.
"Some of the illnesses we have seen in food borne illnesses weigh heavy like the Norovirus," said Kristi Ludy, Environmental Health County Manager for the West Central Health District.
There's also E.coli, Listeria and Salmonella, just to mention a few.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in six Americans get sick from food poisoning every year.
Food inspectors like Basset pop in on restaurant owners unannounced either once or twice a year – depending on risk factors.
"Risk type 1, is once a year and doesn't have any raw food," Basset said.
Sandwich joints and pizza parlors that prepare pre-cooked foods fall into this category.
"Risk type 2, twice a year, they prepare raw food product," Basset said.
Basset says those are your more elaborate food places that cook food from scratch.
We visited one of those restaurants on Columbus' northeast side, Cream De La Cream, a soul food eatery with a dash of Caribbean cuisine.
The inspection report at a restaurant is required to be in clear view for customers to see. This restaurant Cream De La Cream got an "A."
Owner Ramona Horton has her score posted well within the required 15 feet of the main entrance.
"So when they come, we do get nervous and go to running but we're always prepared because we try to do everything we're asked to do and stay within the guidelines and as well provide quality food and quality service," Horton said.
Executive Chef Horton also allowed our cameras inside the kitchens
Hand washing is the first order of business for Chef Adonna Hamblin and her team. Before prepping the food, they have to make sure pots, pans and towels are sanitized.
"These are the strips for the sanitizer water; it's right over her in this bucket in a container off the ground… that's why we have this here," Hamblin said.
Hamblin dips the strip in the sanitized water and within seconds it should start to change colors.
"As I pull it up, it's turning the color which is supposed to be green," Hamblin explained.
The color is starting to pierce through along the strip's edge---indicating the water is strong enough to clean kitchen and dining tables.
Then it's on to checking food temperatures, another sizzling item for inspectors when it comes to cold and hot foods.
"Cold holding is going to be 41 or less, hot holding is 135 or above," Basset said.
Basset also says food temperatures vary for different foods, like poultry would need to be cooked at 165 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes.
Cold and hot foods must stay separate in a restaurant. When the overall sanitary and temperature procedures are not followed, points are deducted on their scorecard, resulting in a bad grade.
"Cross contamination issues that would be a nine point violation," Basset said. "That would weigh heavy in points because it's a critical violation."
Restaurant scores are based on a 10 point scale:
A represents 90 to 100
B is 80 to 89
C is 70 to 79
U is anything less than 69
"One time I went to a restaurant and it was a 75 and I said, oh no let's get out of here," said Christie Mills.
"I think it's important for health reasons, but sometimes I think a restaurant could have a bad day and get a bad mark, so I like to judge things for myself or take recommendations from my friends," said LaNora Emziah.
Like Cream De La Cream, we randomly selected these four restaurants also getting it right with top scores as posted on Columbus Department of Public Health's website:
American Buffalo Wings and Deli, Veterans Parkway
Bojangles, Airport Thruway
China Wok, Double Churches Road,
Dairy Queen, Macon Road
On that same website, we also found these four restaurants that have a grade C with several violations that were corrected during their inspection:
American Deli, Auburn Avenue
China Inn Express, Victory Drive
Hong Kong Restaurant St. Mary's Road
Wasabi, Whittlesey Boulevard
For more information on your favorite restaurant's report card click here.
And join the discussion on social media by using the hashtag #RestaurantReportCard.