Food & Drink

Chew on This

From time to time, I'm asked why I don't include the county health inspection grades when I review restaurants. I explain that the grades can change substantially from one inspection to the next, and it's entirely possible that the inspection grade will change between the time I write a review and the time it's published. For the most current information, I direct people to the local county health inspection Web sites.

That's my official response. Unofficially, I've come to take those inspection grades with something of a grain of salt. Not that I disregard them. If a restaurant scores in the 80s (on a scale of 100), you can bet it gets my attention.

On the other hand, I don't get bent out of shape over the difference between a perfect score of 100 (102, if a certified manager earns extra credit by completing a food safety course) and, say, a 95. At least, not until I've had a chance to find out the reason for those five deducted points. If they're the result of a single major violation such as storing raw meat over cooked food, I'm concerned. But those same five points might have been deducted for an accumulation of minor violations -- improper lighting, for instance, or too few shelves in the walk-in freezer -- which have considerably less impact on food safety.

The good news is that state officials and county health inspectors are aware of the discrepancy, and they've done something about it. As of July 1, inspectors are using a new inspection form that increases the emphasis on public safety and preventing food-borne illnesses. Patterned after a form used nationally, the new North Carolina inspection checklist recognizes the difference between what it terms "critical violations" and "good retail practices."

As a result of the new system, the scores will no doubt be higher for some restaurants and lower for others. But one thing won't change. You'll still be able to find out specifically why a particular restaurant earned the score it did at these Web sites:

Wake County

Durham County

Orange County