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Dirty Dish dissects dirty dining

My love-hate relationship with the health department

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I probably shouldn’t bring this up, but I’m going to anyway. I got really sick a few weeks back, after eating at one of my favorite restaurants. Making this declaration pains me slightly because as a restaurant owner, this could happen to anyone. It happened to me. While all restaurants are subject to scrutiny by the health department, my concern lies with you, the customer.

I never called the restaurant or reported the incident to the health department. Maybe it wasn’t food poisoning? Perhaps it was a 24-hour flu thing? I’m pretty sure it wasn’t, but I had to ponder the thought. The timing of the incident was too perfect. It made sense.

Why didn’t I make a stink about spending an entire day running to the bathroom? It is a complicated answer. While most restaurants do their best to follow the health department rules, sometimes our best is not enough and there is nowhere to hide.

A few years back I worked in Olympia, and before my co-workers and I would venture out to lunch, we checked the local newspaper for where not to go that day. You see The Daily “O” posts the Thurston County Health Department’s food service inspection reports. Here in Pierce County, the health department makes it even easier. Just look them up on their Web site.

Now, a note of caution: when you look up your favorite restaurant to see what the inspectors have to say, please take it seriously but take the time to understand their lingo. For instance, at my restaurant we got dinged with, “1400 FOOD PROTECTED FROM CROSS CONTAMINATION — Raw meats below and away from RTE food.”

Now this is a stock comment with no explanation, and it sounds really serious. In our case, we had two separate covered containers, one had chicken, one had beef, and the containers were simply touching. Their juices were not mingling together in order to create a new life form. The containers were too close, so we were written up. There is no room for gray area with the health department, and maybe there shouldn’t be.

About 99 percent of the restaurants I looked up had violations, some were serious and some were not. I am not defending our flaws as food service providers, because we love you and we want you to be our customers forever. But there is this natural aversion we restaurant people have with the health department inspectors. We know they are here to help, but unless you have been in this business, you can’t understand our displeasure with them. They’re somewhat like city parking enforcement downtown Tacoma. Ah, now you get it …

I think it all stems from all the work it takes to open a restaurant and the demands the health department puts on us. I have four sinks behind my bar, five in the kitchen and one in the storage area, and those suckers aren’t cheap! Not to mention the person assigned to my account didn’t understand why I wasn’t going to put a sneeze guard on my bar!

I look back on when I was opening my place and wonder how I ever made it through the process. If you ever have a dull moment, take the time to download the Food Plan Review Form at It may make you think twice about ever opening your own restaurant. If it were easy, there would be more of us out there.

Looking at these reports hasn’t caused me to abandon my favorite haunts. It’s really quite interesting if you think about it. Stay true to your pet restaurants and maybe find some new ones that have been deemed pure by the TPCHD. We do our best. Just be thankful you don’t have someone pop into your kitchen unannounced and pick it apart with a fine-toothed comb. Ouch.

Eat out Tacoma. We need your love.

Sandee Glib has worked in the restaurant and hospitality industry for more than 12 years as a server, bartender, cook and owner. Her opinions are expressly her own and she is always right.

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