Boston, MA - It’s every diner’s nightmare. They’re at their favorite restaurant. The wine is flowing freely, the pasta is al dente and the waitstaff is as they should be—bitter and sarcastic. Even the owner is coming out to join in the revelry, with a complimentary after dinner nightcap and some mildly off-color banter. A perfect night and one you vow to repeat; just as soon as you get your next paycheck.
The next week, you’re listening to the 11:00 news. That favorite restaurant of yours? They just faced over sixteen different health violations as a result of a routine inspection.
In 2018 alone, 2,513 out of some 4,152 food service establishments in Boston failed to meet health inspection standards. And while that many local customers have raised their concerns over that number, there’s evidence to suggest some of those alarms may be premature.
The Boston Inspectional Services Department of Health Division utilizes a scoring system to determine the health and sanitary standards of an establishment, and accords a restaurant a letter from A - C for accountability of those standards. “A” indicates a score of 94 - 100 points; “B” indicates a score of 81 - 93 points; and “C” indicates a score of 80 points or less. Points are deducted depending on various levels of violations. A foodborne critical violation, such as failing to keep food at safe temperatures, carries a penalty of 10 points. A critical violation, such as re-serving unwrapped food items, carries a penalty of 7 points. And a non-critical violation, such as failing to properly clean walls, ceilings, or other non-food-contact surfaces, carries a penalty of 2 points.
Of the 2,513 restaurants cited for violations in 2018, the vast majority were for multiple non-critical violations. In order to pass a standard inspection, a business can have no less than a score or 94; or three non-critical violations.
“If there’s graffiti in the bathroom, that’s a non-critical violation,” said Franco, the kitchen manager of an area casual restaurant that was awarded a “B.” “If there’s grime in the kitchen, that’s [another] one. Let’s be realistic.”
Still, there remains some skepticism among area diners regarding whether or not the department’s penalties are stringent enough. Earlier this year, one “C” restaurant in Roxbury was reopened with a status of “A” after being closed for violations including “raw chicken over steak, produce.” Another “A” restaurant in Allston was cited for operating without water; the report stated it was, “unclear how the food items are washed,” and “employees unable to wash their hands.” And just last month, former Health Department agent Janice McCarthy stood on trial to face 22 felony charges for forging inspection reports for nearly a dozen restaurants between 2001 and 2017.
The Boston Inspectional Services Department of Health Division currently inspects restaurants that earn an “A” at least once a year, restaurants that earn a “B” at least once every six months and restaurants that earn a “C” at least once every three months. Inspections can be announced or unannounced depending on public reports.
For a searchable database of area food service establishments by name (including grades and temporary permit suspensions for the last 90 days) officially sponsored by the city of Boston, please visit www.cityofboston.gov/isd/health/mfc/