Health Inspectors have to have one of the worst jobs out there. Day in and day out, they go to everyone's favorite restaurants and find things that no one should see - especially someone who has the authority to shut down an unsanitary restaurant. But despite everything, they have a job to do and it's an important one at that.
The people in the following stories have seen their fair share of disgusting conditions as they recently shared on a Reddit thread asking food and health inspectors to dish out the most disturbing and troubling conditions they have come across during their routine inspections. The results were shocking, to say the very least. All posts have been edited for clarity.
"I got a complaint that guests staying at a local hotel all had norovirus symptoms; they all ate at the fish house the night before that was across the street. This particular fish house is a national brand and known for various outbreaks. I was constantly giving this place low scores (had trouble with the whole hand washing concept).
So I go to the fish house and ask the manager what he thinks and he said, 'Oh, everything's fine.' I did the inspection (still can't get the hand washing thing figured out). They had an employee bathroom in the kitchen area right next to the food prep area. I went inside and I was overpowered by the smell of vomit. The whole bathroom was destroyed with vomit and water everywhere. It wasn't uncommon for this place to not have soap or paper towels at the hand-washing sinks either.
In this particular state, we don't have a mandatory glove law. The restaurant association lobbied against it because it would cost money to provide gloves for staff, so staff are allowed to touch with their bare (clean) hands ready to eat food (unless utensils make more sense like mixing a salad).
They 'voluntarily closed' for cleaning. The story ended up being that the manager's baby had norovirus and the babysitter was also a waitress at the restaurant. So the manager and the waitress go to work sick and shared it with everyone else, including the party that was across the street staying at the hotel who spread it to the conference center which ended up being a multi-state outbreak."
"I once got a complaint about cats in a bakery. So I go to the their routine inspection and counted more than 13 cats in the kitchen. They installed a cat door on the back door and had cat food everywhere and litter boxes.
As I walked into the kitchen, they had cats licking customers' dirty dishes by the sink. But that's not even the best part.
I was looking through the cupboards and there were all of these bulk containers of dry product (rice, dried beans, flour, sugar) and cat food but only one scoop.
The owner didn't want to get rid of the cats and actually was known as the local place to drop off your unwanted felines. My boss was nicer than me and allowed her some time to get them all spayed and relocated.
The code is no animals on the premises (meaning property line)."
"A friend had received several calls about the drinks not tasting right at a very well known fast food place that uses car hops. He goes over and starts checking the drink machine. Nothing out of sorts. Then he checks the ice machine. Turns out they had sewer problems and raw sewage had backed up into the ice machine. The bottom of the ice machine was full of human waste and the employees were dipping ice without 'noticing' the odor. They had to shut down for several days.
Because of this particular incident, a new law was passed in that town that all restaurants had to have an open air drain in the kitchen area, which means the sewer line had an open gap in it so if there was a sewer back up it would go all over the floor and not into the sink or ice machine.
Another time, a city employee went to the drive through of a well known chicken place and ordered a fried chicken dinner. Got his meal and noticed a foul odor. Took it straight to the inspector's office and said 'Smell this, I just bought it.'
The inspector goes over and checks the cooler, 57 degrees with shelves of bloated bags of chicken. Asked employees what they thought they were doing and they told him the manager said fry it up and sell it. He shut it down instantly and told them to dispose of everything in cooler while he watched. There was a steady stream of customers trying to get in banging on the doors and yelling. He told them he was the health inspector and they were closed. The customers did not care, they still wanted their chicken!"
"I was inspecting a high-end Thai place in a popular tourist area. I went downstairs to the kitchen and opened up their freezer. On the top shelf of the freezer, they were storing loose beef, pork, and chicken in three separate piles. The meats were not in any containers. They were all sitting on a large piece of cardboard the restaurant had placed on the bottom of the shelf.
I poked the cardboard and my finger went right through it. The juices from the three meats had turned the cardboard into pulp. I then noticed it dripping from the combined sludge of chicken, pork, and beef blood. From the looks of the cardboard, it had been dripping for a while.
Then I looked to the shelf below to see the results of the drip. Underneath the meats, in the shelf second from the top, the restaurant was storing three buckets of ice cream. Without lids. Directly under the meat drip.
I looked inside the ice cream containers and see congealed, partially frozen, cardboard-laced raw-meat drippings, pooled in the center of each tub of ice cream. None of the ice creams were more than halfway full.
We asked the kitchen manager how long they've been storing their items like this. He didn't remember. At least a few months.
My theory is because the place was a 'nice' restaurant and an 'ethnic; restaurant, patrons were less likely to complain about odd flavors. For example, instead of complaining about blood in the ice cream, wondering out loud if that taste was star anise.
That's one of the few inspections that made me feel physically sick. The place still got an A because the restaurant grade system in NYC is about as effective as the TSA."
"I worked for a company that had a lunchroom with an older woman who cooked our breakfast and lunch. I think she was friends of the owners or something like that. She would bring in a daily special, like chili, but also made sandwiches and whatnot.
We had out-of-town customers and when lunch time came around, the secretaries would set up lunch in a conference room by the lunch room, and the lady would make something special just for them.
I was taking away plates after these people had eaten and bringing them to the lunchroom for lunch lady to load the dishwasher. Now, not everyone had finished their meals. It was chicken and rice this day. It was rather late and an employee had come in asking her to make him something.
I was going back and forth doing my thing and I saw her scrape the leftover food back into the pot. From several plates. I couldn't believe my eyes, so I just stared with question marks floating over my head. Then I heard her ask the guy if he wanted chicken and rice. He said, 'Sure,' and she made him a plate of leftover food she scraped off the plates I gave her. I should have said something, but I noped out of there real quick.
It bothered me so I confessed to a co-worker and she said, 'You have to tell the boss!' I did, it escalated to the owners, and the lunch lady was fired."
"I've got quite a few. Mexican restaurants, Chinese, and Italian restaurants are typically the most egregious offenders. Which sucks, because their food is usually the most delicious... As long as you're okay with potentially dying later from it.
I've only ever closed down one restaurant. It's actually much harder in most places than you would imagine: lots of red tape that prevent field staff, and even managers, from using their professional judgment in the service of public health.
A pizza place was operating without a permit at one point in time. I drafted a letter stating that they were in violation, and before I went out to hand-deliver it, I got a complaint notification. Someone had eaten their pizza the day before, and their son had felt glass (or something that felt like pulverized glass) in his pizza.
We were not legally allowed to investigate or inspect restaurants who didn't have a permit (you can thank the U.S. Constitution for that). You can see the dilemma. We decided the best course of action is to deliver the letter saying they're operating illegally, and that it would be in the best interest of their business and the public health to allow us to investigate the nature of the complaint.
After I got permission to go in and take a look around, I was appalled: the manager had fingernails that extend probably half an inch beyond the nail bed. And they're caked in flour and other ingredients. The other employee there has dirty bandages all over his fingers. Both of these characters were dressed in filthy uniforms. The walk-in cooler had loads of uncovered food sitting beneath stalactites of mold, all beneath a ceiling of black filamentous fungi. The pizza-prep table had broken doors/hinges and was covered with what I can only describe as putrified ingredients from 2003. It clearly hadn't been cleaned since then. The plastic containers holding the food items in the cooler were all breaking apart and chipping... At this point, I had a few ideas as to what that guy found in his pizza, and I don't think any of them were glass. It was probably a fingernail, or a band-aid, or plastic, or maybe broken metal from the cooler itself.
Then I saw it... The most disgusting can opener I've ever seen. To put it in perspective, mounted can openers are like the low hanging fruit of every health inspector: they're almost always out of compliance, and writing one up will make you look like a Try-Hard jerk who's out to get the restaurant owner in trouble. They're usually not a big deal. Except for this one. This one was absolutely caked in dried, vile, pizza sauce goop that had turned black with age. The blade itself was so dull and chipped, it was peeling metal filaments off into a mass next to the blade. Every time this thing was used to open a new pizza sauce (which, by the way, was put into a cracked plastic container and covered with a trash bag to keep loads of flies away) it deposited metal chips, flakes, filaments, whatever you wanna call it, into that sauce, and into the bellies of the customers.
Needless to say, I was appalled. I had the person in charge call the store owner, who pleaded with me to let him stay open. Given that they didn't even have a permit to be open in the first place, this was a no-go. I went back the next day with backup, and we formally closed them for operation until they could get everything back into working order. Surprise surprise, they called the next day saying everything was fixed, and... I couldn't believe it, but it was. Managerial lack of control aside, they must have spent a $1,000 and 16 hours into cleaning this place. The one dude even clipped his fingernails!
Success story? Maybe. Gross example of what you get with second-rate poorly managed restaurants? Definitely. They're lucky no one has yet died from eating there."
"I used to have a job working as an inspector for storage tanks at places like dairies and factories. I went to a cheesecake factory (not the restaurant) once to test a milk storage tank. It had just been cleaned and was being prepped to be filled with a tanker full of milk. I noticed the floor of the tank was covered in bleach. It turned out, the floor manager couldn't be arsed to spend the time sucking out the rest of the cleaning fluid used in the cleaning process and, as standard, just filled the tank with milk on top of a dozen gallons of bleach.
His theory was, that there was enough milk to dilute the bleach to acceptable consumption levels.
I wrote a report and he was promptly fired.
My 12-gallon estimate is just that - an estimate. It was a huge milk storage silo (40,000l gallons) and roughly half an inch of the floor of the tank was covered in cleaning fluid. The dilutions we're talking about probably wouldn't have been harmful or even tastable after being pasteurized and mixed with cheesecake ingredients. But that's also a guess, and it's also not the point."
"I performed food safety inspection at a large slaughterhouse for a while. We did our own inspections each shift and the government inspector stopped by once a day too.
One day, I came around a corner and one of the workers who was running service for the butchers dropped a ham on the floor. So, the proper way to handle this for him was to leave it there and call for a re-inspector to come to pick it up, take it out to carve off any contaminated bits, then rinse it in boiling water.
Now, meat was dropped on the floor relatively often; it's just very, very hard to avoid it when running in a factory setting with human labor. So this was common - what was uncommon was what the guy did next.
First, he tried catching it as it fell, which would've been fine - no contact with any surface and he could've just thrown it back into the tub it had fallen out of. He didn't catch it though, and it landed on the floor. Thinking that no one was watching, he tried picking it up and dropped it again. He did this three times. So first and foremost, he was not supposed to be touching anything that's been on the floor. It cross-contaminated his hands and he had nowhere to put the contaminated product anyway. But he did this, three times, and dropped it three times (freshly carved hams can be slippery when wearing vinyl gloves). He then, out of pure frustration/annoyance at the unwieldy ham, dropped down on all fours and proceeded to pick up the raw, freshly cut, six-kilogram ham - by his teeth. Stood up, ham dangling from his chompers - and dropped it into the tub with around 600kg of product - and drove off with the tub for processing.
I followed him and let him park the tub before I let out a very cliche 'Ahem' type of scene. He was fired a few minutes after that and the entire tub of product was discarded."
"I'm not a health inspector but when I worked at subway, we caught a co-worker doing something inappropriate.
My manager had to look at the camera for some unrelated reason. He was skipping forward and accidentally went too far forward. He noticed a worker putting a bin of tuna on the floor. He kept looking at the tape. The worker pulled his pants down and proceeded to enter the bin of tuna. He made sweet, sweet love to the tuna.
He finished up and went into the bathroom to clean off. When he came back, he smoothed out the bin of tuna, wrapped it back up and put it in the fridge. My manager immediately had me throw out the tuna and make a new batch.
Needless to say, the guy was fired on the spot. And while this was 20 years ago, I still can't eat tuna I didn't make or see made."
"My mother briefly became the head of the health inspection for our county, I recall two good stories:
First, she noted that even though there were many violations there seemed to be no punishment from the department for restaurants that forced them to fix these things... except for new restaurants. She asked why. Their response was that 'These restaurant owners are our friends! If we punish them or fine them, or send out a violation notice they might not like us any more.' She tried to fix that but something got in her way.
Another time, a house (not a restaurant) had a sewage problem, it was backing up and the neighbors finally got the county to investigate. They decided that the septic tank and field were backed up. So they forced the homeowner to dig it up and reinstall a new one (a few thousand dollars even back in the day). When they finally got it exposed, they discovered the homeowner had backed a short school bus into a trench 10 or 20 years before and has the sewage going into a window in the front behind the driver seat, and had cracked open the back door to allow it to drain... it was full.
Third, there was a dude, old dude, who was 'close to retirement.' He was a dumpster human. He was verbally and physically abusive to the staff (the inspectors not my mother who is well... matronly). What she did do is fire him. But the county board rehired him since he was 'close to retirement.' After he abused (attacked) some of the women in the office, she fired him again. Then five people on the county board and her all had flat tires the same day, and they discovered that each of them had a box of nails emptied at the bottom of their drive way... so the county board rehired the guy.
"I have been a health inspector in different areas in Melbourne and rural Victoria.
I inspected a dirty premises, was in the process of telling the chef what needed to be fixed while he is chopping up food. He stopped, picked his nose in front of me, and ate it.... Then continued handling and chopping up food.
There was a restaurant with stainless steel sheets covering the walls. I banged on the sheet and about 20 cockroaches came running out.
I went into a bakery in the morning as they're opening one day and found nibble marks and mouse feces on the slices of bread left in the cabinets overnight. The staff just cut off the nibbled part right in front of me. Then I saw a mouse running around inside a bag of flour.
The things that get people sick generally aren't the shocking things... More so the people that never wash their hands or leave tubs of chicken on the bench marinating in summer.
I've seen so many bad places that I don't think anything could shock me at this point."
"Not myself personally, but my dad is a manager of a public health sector in Canada and oversees many health inspectors. Here's one of the worst stories he's told me.
So the city keeps getting complaints about this one Shawarma place. People are getting sick and such, so finally the inspectors roll up on this tiny little restaurant. Once they get there, the owner is clearly very adamant about them entering the back of the restaurant where the kitchen is. And once they go back there, they realize why.
Sitting on the counter is a dead lamb, with not one, but TWO rats gnawing away at the meat. Right in front of them. There's a big butchers knife right beside it, where the owner had been cutting the pieces of rank meat off the dead, rat-eaten lamb to serve to his customers. What makes it worse? The rats didn't even scurry away - they were clearly used to human presence. So this guy obviously had seen these rats doing this, and had done nothing about it, causing the rats to not see humans as a threat. The inspectors guessed the lamb had been sitting there on the counter for days.
Yeah, that place didn't last long after that."
"I'm not a health inspector but I worked at a food plant (the kind that makes microwave meals) where my job was to inspect all the equipment (conveyor belts, packaging, breaders, cheese mixers) at the end of a clean and point out spots that were missed (usually large clumps of food) to the sanitation crew, and take swabs of all the equipment to test for bacteria in the lab later. In testing the actual finished food products, I never detected enough bacteria to warrant a recall or prevent a shipment, but there were a few concerning things I saw in my time there:
Often, the sanitation crew was behind or not given enough time so there was always a huge rush before the first shift production started, and it is very hard to do a good inspection without ample time. I’m sure plenty of food particles make it through to the next batch. Many of the workers at a place like that don’t really care about food safety and have a 'bare minimum' mentality.
Once I found a dead lizard on the floor next to the fryer. Makes me wonder if any animals ever make it all the way through and end up in the package.
Once I found a square foot of mold in a hidden corner of a machine and God knows how long it had been there.
Often the e.coli swabs for the equipment, water baths, and occasionally fry batter came back positive, but since none was detected in the finished product there wasn’t much more we could do.
There was a rule in the lab that if a food tested positive, we would basically continue to retest the same sample up to three times until it tested negative. The reasoning is that the positive hit was probably due to accidental contamination when conducting the test itself, but to me testing something until you get the desired result is bad science.
Anyway, I still eat their products, but I recommend microwaving any microwave meal longer than it says to just in case."