It takes a lot to gross out a health inspector. Their job centers on determining whether or not a restaurant is clean enough to remain in business, so the average health inspector has seen a thing or two. But what happens when a seasoned inspector sees something so grotesque and so alarming that they just have to tell someone.
Well, like everything, they go to the internet to air their grievances. And that's what several health inspectors recently did when they were asked by Reddit to dish out the dirt on the worst thing they have seen while inspecting a restaurant. And just a heads up, quite a few of these stories shouldn't be read while eating unless you have an ironclad stomach. All posts have been edited for clarity.
"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.
One day, I came around a corner, and one of the workers who was running service for the butchers had dropped a ham on the floor. So, the proper way to handle this for him was to leave it there and call for another inspector to pick it up, take it out to carve off any contaminated bits and rinse it in boiling water.
Workers would drop meat on the floor every once and a while, 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.
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. First and foremost, he was not supposed to be touching anything that had 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, 12-pound ham - by his teeth. He stood up, ham dangling from his chompers - and dropped it into the tub with around 1,000 pounds of product - and drove off with the tub for processing.
When he put it in with the clean product and drove it off to processing - that shows a complete disregard for any sort of understanding of what you should and should not do when working with food.
He was fired a few minutes after that, and the entire tub of product was discarded."
"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 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 when I noticed the floor of the tank was covered in bleach. I quickly learned that the floor manager couldn't be asked 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.
It was a huge milk silo (40,000 liters), 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 noticeable after being pasteurized and mixed with the cheesecake ingredients, but that's beside the point.
I wrote a report, and he was promptly fired."
"I've only ever closed down one restaurant. It's actually much harder in most places than you would imagine.
A pizza place was operating without a permit at one point in time. I had drafted a letter stating that, 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're not legally allowed to investigate or inspect restaurants who don't have a permit (you can thank the U.S. Constitution for that). You can see the dilemma. We decide 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 get permission to go in and take a look around, I was appalled: the manager had fingernails that extended probably half an inch beyond the nail bed. And they were caked in flour and other ingredients. The other employee there had 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 Lexan 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 didn't think any of them were glass. It was probably a fingernail, or a bandaid, or plastic, or maybe broken metal from the cooler itself.
Then I saw it... The most disgusting can opener I'd 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 caked in dried, vile, pizza sauce goop that had turned black with age. The blade itself was so dull and chipped it was literally peeling metal filaments off into a mass next to the blade. Every time this thing was used to open a new pizza sauce, it deposited metal chips, flakes, filaments, whatever you want to 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 back-up, 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 can't believe it, but it was. Managerial lack of control aside, they must have spent $1,000 and 16 hours 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."
"My stepmother is the lead health inspector for a decent sized suburban town. While I have never asked what the worst thing she has witnessed as part of her job was, I do know of one instance that was pretty gross.
A truck full of lobsters was traveling down the highway and crashed. The police came, and eventually, they towed the truck. As a board of health inspector, my stepmother was consulted to see if any of the lobsters were viable and she told them no, the load was a total loss since there were literally lobsters scattered across the highway covered in dirt, sand, and other debris.
The next day, one of the restaurants in town ran a special: twin lobsters for $19.99! Apparently, the owner of the trucking/towing company knew the restaurant owner pretty well, so they made a deal where the restaurant would pay a very discounted price for the 'road lobsters.' The restaurant would turn around and illegally serve the lobsters to unsuspecting customers or sell them out of a truck behind behind the restaurant.
I'm not sure what the repercussions were, but I think they were shut down for like a week. They closed shortly thereafter and now there's a new restaurant there. The towing company lost their contract to tow vehicles/semi trucks with the town and state."
"I've worked in hospitality for decades, and I've only worked one place that was disgusting. I was hired on as assistant manager, and when I came in for my first shift (different location than the interview), I walked through the restaurant. It was VILE. I mentioned this to the manager. He told me it wasn't bad. The sinks were clogged and moldy. The dishes hadn't been cleaned in ever. Seriously, I'm not sure how customers didn't notice. There was no soap, no disinfectants, the floors were thick with who knows what. The food station was so bad I puked and left.
I immediately called the district manager and left a message stating I was headed home to call the health inspector since the manager did not care. Once I was home, my answering machine was full and the phone was going crazy. The district manager had been on her way to my location and checked the message when she got there. The manager was fired on the spot and the shop was closed. I was hired as manager and given unlimited resources to clean and replace anything and everything.
It took a few weeks to bring it up to code. At this point, the health inspector came in because of my call. I kept some staff but hired mostly new people. All the food had to be disposed of because of rodents and bugs. We had to bring in exterminators, plumbers, and electricians. They sank so much money into that place it was practically new when it reopened. I got an A on the inspection, a massive bonus for not having them shut down permanently (apparently this had been an ongoing issue), oh, and the old manager robbed us one evening and was caught because of the cameras I had installed. Came in with a weapon, turned out to be a toy. Either way, we are insured and trained to hand over money. She apparently didn't do regular safe drops and expected much more cash than she got. Haha. She wore a hoodie but her face was visible on camera. Not to mention one of the old staff recognized her. Imagine being so incompetent to go from a comfy salary paying job to prison for robbing it after being fired for being a lazy disgusting human being who sold people contaminated food."
"I once worked as a dishwasher at a Greek restaurant. The owner used to illegally park his car in front of the garbage container, as parking downtown was a pain. It was one of those giant metal dumpsters, and after a few trash pick-up misses, it was piled high with garbage.
It was summer, and so it was really hot, so I had the door to the kitchen open to let in some air. We got a very short but intense rain shower, which really cooled things down and made everything feel great. Unfortunately, the dumpster started to fill up with water. A short while later, I looked down on the ground because something was smashing under my feet. My first thought when I looked down was that someone had spilled one of the large bags of rice. It turns out that the one billion maggots that were living in the dumpster fled the rising waters, migrated across the small parking lot, climbed up the short stairs, and came into the kitchen by the thousands.
Somehow, the only dustpan in the whole restaurant disappeared and I had to sweep them up using a laminated wine menu and throw them by the menu-full back out the door."
"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 was a national chain and known for various outbreaks. For me, they would consistently get low scores (they had trouble with the whole hand washing concept).
So I went to the fish house and asked the manager what he thought, 'Oh everything's fine.' I conducted the inspection (still couldn'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 and there was vomit everywhere. It wasn't uncommon for this place to not have soap or paper towels at the handwashing sinks either.
In this 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 went 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."
"My uncle is a health inspector in rural Australia. He got several complaints about a fish n chips shop in a small town in Victoria, with reports of it being a bit grotty and people getting chunks of hair in their hot chips.
So he rocked up unannounced on a blazing hot day in the middle of summer, and the owner greeted him and showed him around wearing a white singlet top with sweat patches under the arms, short shorts, and no shoes. This guy's body was covered in hair. Not just on his arms and chest, but his back and neck were like a werewolf. Clearly, this must be the source of the hair in the chips. My uncle decided to make a tactful comment about having to wear appropriate clothing when working, so as to protect against hot oil burns.
After seeing the property and giving a few basic suggestions, the only other thing he noticed that needed immediate attention was the deep fryer itself. The oil was old and filthy, and likely full of this guy's hair, so he ordered the bloke to drain it out right then and there. The owner did so, and at the bottom of the oil vat is a dead, deep fried and crispy....cat. Totally unphased, the owner simply said, 'Oh, that's where my cat went!'
A few months earlier, the shop was having a rodent problem, so the owner bought in a cat to catch them. He thought the cat escaped overnight and ran away. Nope. Looks like little Fluffy drowned in the deep-frying oil, and Mr. Chippy had been frying him up over and over and over again ever since. The clumps of hair locals were complaining about weren't from the half-man-half-wolf owner, but the fur and flesh of a dead cat."
"When my son was 5 or so, we had a nanny who used to look after him, and she used to take him to a local pub where one of her friends worked. He got used to sitting at the bar, eating a packet of chips and drinking a soda.
The nanny and her friend were around the corner in the other bar chatting away, when a couple of besuited gentlemen wandered into the bar. My son was laying a line of chips along the bar, and one of the gents started talking to him. It's worth noting that the regulars in the bar were used to him being there, and often referred to him as the boss. They let him pour them drinks and so-on, ostensibly under the supervision of the bar staff. Needless to say it's illegal for 5-year-olds to be employed as bar staff, even in the UK.
'I'm in charge here. Would you like a drink?' offered my son, scooting around the back of the bar.
'No, it's ok, thanks. What are the chips for?'
'Oh, I'm feeding my friend,' my son replied.
'Really, where's your friend?'
'He lives in that little hole.' My son pointed to a hole in the wall towards the end of the bar. 'And sometimes he comes out and I feed him.'
On cue, a small mouse appeared out of the hole, ran along the bar, and started eating the chips.
The men were environmental health officers. The pub was shut down that week, and never re-opened. Luckily, they weren't police (otherwise the nanny's friend would have been in serious trouble)."
"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 once got a complaint about cats in a bakery. I went to their routine inspection and counted at least 13 cats in the kitchen. They installed a cat door on the back door and had cat food and litter boxes all over the place.
As I walked into the kitchen, they had cats licking the dirty dishes of customers. But that wasn't even the best part. When I was looking through the cupboards, 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 cat. My boss was nicer than me and allowed her some time to get them all spayed and relocated."
"I used to work in food service distribution as a director of operations. A few times a year, I would ride with salespeople, meet with customers, make sure their service was good, all that.
I was riding with our top sales guy, and we had visited some of our most important accounts. Then we stopped at this little diner that he sold because it was basically right between a few big customers and it was easy to service.
When we got there, the owner was in the process of adding on to his kitchen. All of the coolers and freezers were outside on his back deck, covered in pine needles and dust. He stopped hammering nails for a few minutes to chat with us. Then a waitress came out and told him she needed a lobster roll and fries. He went into the kitchen, took off his giant muck boots and set them on the end of the counter. His small dog ran around his ankles and eventually hopped on the counter. The owner did not wash his hands, made the lobster roll, fed some meat to the dog, the dog licked his fingers, he then went back to plating the meal, hit the bell, 'order up!' and went back to working on his addition. I actually gagged and almost puked in my mouth."
"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."