Upham's Corner Online

Restaurant Inspections - Overview

Posted: April 10, 2011     Nancy J Conrad

Delicious smells and hunger pangs easily override our caution.  As consumers, we return to the same restaurants and order food from the same take-out places without ever checking the inspection records. 

Like the stranger approaching you, wearing dirty underwear (what a terrible analogy!), the front counter hides what you, the consumer, can't see about the food storage and preparation areas - sometimes good and sometimes pretty bad. 

The Health Division of Inspectional Services (ISD) inspects Boston restaurants and posts the results online.  Inspection "failures" are common though some re-inspections result from egregious inadherence to Commonwealth standards while other failures are based on minor infractions.

Using several years of historical inspection data from the City of Boston website, Upham's Corner News will be reviewing restaurants as part of the series "Food Court."  We will also be looking at patterns of non-compliance across multiple restaurants.  What we present may surprise you.

In reviewing the online inspection reports, we found discrepancies and inconsistencies. 
  1. Some long-standing restaurants only show one year of inspections (Kentucky Fried Chicken)
  2. Some "violations" are listed as three-star - critical foodborne illness and the same violation is listed for other restaurants as two-star - Critical.
  3. Some violations are listed as 1-star * but seem (to the average consumer) to be more critical than that
  4. One report shows a violation report with a "pass" status but no prior violation report
We spoke with both Lisa Timberlake from Inspectional Services as well as Assistant Commissioner Thomas Goodfellow.  Lisa has notified the Health Division as well as the IT department.  ONLY ONE year of inspections should be reported online.

We argued that this removes important data from the consumer, that several years worth of inspection reports is much more valuable than only one.  She asked that we put a request in writing.

To:  Lisa Timberlake, Inspectional Services
From:  Nancy Conrad, Upham's Corner News
Date:  April 20, 2011
Subject:  Restaurant Inspections

The Mayor's Food Court contains a wealth of historical information that provides a picture of the consistency of food establishments adhering / not adhering to the Health Codes.  It also demonstrates, for example, when an establishment has cleaned up its act or has gone the other way.

Historical data is EXTREMELY important for consumers.

So I am making a formal request that the City of Boston  Mayor's Food Court continue to publish the last couple years of inspection reports.

If you could help me with this issue, I would appreciate it.

The Health Division of the Boston Inspectional Services Department administers the Massachusetts State Sanitary Code in Boston. The Massachusetts Sate Sanitary Code regulates food service practices and restaurant management.

According to the City of Boston website, each restaurant is inspected twice a year by professionally certified food safety inspectors. Food service establishments include: restaurants, donut shops, retail food stores, and any other establishment that offers food to the public.

Effective October 1, 2001, the Massachusetts Food Establishment Regulation, 105 CMR 590:003(A)(2) requires food establishments to have at least one person-in-charge (PIC) who is a certified food protection manager. So if a Certified Food Protection Manager is not present during an inspection, the restaurant will fail the inspection.

According to Assistant Commissioner Thomas Goodfellow:  "We are not trying to put anybody out of business.  Our motto is 'safe and sanitary.'

If violations are found, ISD personnel meet with the person in charge (PIC) and go over the code to make sure they understand what is needed to comply with it.  Then the PIC states how long it will take to get into compliance and on that basis, the next inspection is scheduled."

Useful Links
The Mayor's Food Court provides consumers with current information about Boston's restaurants so that they can make informed decisions about where they will eat. It also provides restaurant owners and food service professionals with information about proper food handling and management practices so that they can continue to provide quality food service to consumers.

To check on a particular restaurant,
  1. Open The Mayor's Foodcourt
  2. Enter the full name of the restaurant in the first field shown OR
  3. Use the second field to select the neighborhood where the restautant is located (via a dropdown menu)
We recommend starting with the "neighborhood" option.  For example, selecting "Dorchester" will display [almost] all restaurants in Dorchester with the correct restaurant names.
  • Restaurants are listed in alphabetical order. 
  • Click a restaurant name to see a list of the last several years of inspections.
  • Click the inspection of interest to see a complete report (list of violations).
** Notes from Upham's Corner News: 
  1. Not all restaurants are inspected twice yearly.  Restaurants open only in the evening are considered "night stops" and are inspected less frequently and by appointment.
  2. Restaurants that fail the first inspection (which is done with no warning to the establishment) are given time to correct the violation(s).  A second inspection follows at a pre-scheduled time.
  3. Some restaurant inspections show a failed inspection but no follow-up inspection.
A typical inspection report shows either no problems or a list of violations:
  • The violation found (sequential list)
  • What is necessary to correct the problem
  • The severity of the problem
  • "Fail" if it is the first inspection and "pass" if the violation has been corrected
Severity is designated using asterisks:  ***, ** or * with the following explanation at the bottom of each report:

*** Critical Foodborne Illness
** Critical
* Non Critical

What the Violation Codes Mean provides a list of violation codes with a different set of descriptors:
  • Risk Factor Critical Violation
  • Critical Violation
  • (blank)
Foodborne Illness Risk Factor Critical Violation Critical Violation Non-Critical Violation
Foodborne Illness Risk Factor Critical Violation means improper practices or procedures, which have been identified by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), through epidemiological data as the most prevalent contributing factors of foodborne illness or injury.

    - A violation, that, if in noncompliance, is more likely than other violations to contribute to food contamination, illness, or environmental health hazard.
    - Any other violation of 105 CMR 590.000 so designated by the board of health after written notice to the permit holder that the violation has the potential to seriously affect the public health.
A violation that does not seriously affect the public health.

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