A day in the life of a restaurant health inspector

A visit from the health inspector can lead to some anxious moments for restaurant owners. We recently tagged along with Washington County health inspector Jeremy Long as he visited the restaurant Veggie Grill in Beaverton.

During the inspection, general manager Victoria Jayka told us she was confident the inspection would go well.

"We follow all the rules to make sure everything reaches temperatures. We clean things correctly because we want to have that environment that is clean and healthy and safe for guests," Jayka said.

Long will be the judge of that. He started by washing his hands for the required 20 seconds, with soap and warm water, then grabbing a paper towel to shut of the water and dry his hands.

He then went through the kitchen and checked some of the basics. He stoped at the dishwasher.

"So the temperature I'm looking for is 120 degrees and we're right about there," Long said.

He checked the bleach bucket with a test strip to make sure it was at the proper concentration.

"Right about 50 parts per million. Needs to be in a range of 50 to 200," Long said.

He then went into the cooking area and stood side by side with the cook, both testing temperatures of food on the range. Then he moved to the cold-holding area where he read off temperatures as he measured, wiping the thermometer down between each test.

"Right at 40 degrees. I like that. Yeah, that's nice and cold," he said. "175, great. Nice and warm."

He is looking for what he said are the five major risk factors that contribute to foodborne illness:

  • Improper holding temperatures
  • Inadequate cooking
  • Contaminated equipment
  • Food from unsafe sources
  • Poor personal hygiene

At this inspection, it was looking like Veggie Grill will pass with high marks. No need for Long to lay down the law here, although he does not see himself as one of the "food police."

"The bottom line is: I'm not a cop," Long said. "I'm here to help them out. Most of the operators see us as an advocate. Not as friends, you know, but as a professional advocate and a resource."

For Long, his reward is safer restaurants and healthier customers. He said improvements in food and water safety have contributed to an increase in life expectancy in the United States.

"There's so many reasons why I like doing the job," Long said. "I'm interested in protecting the health of the public. That's the key role that we serve. It's a great reason to come to work every day."