Working in the food industry, in any capacity, is hard on its own without having to do it in unsanitary conditions. Thankfully there are people willing to take a stand (paid for it or otherwise) against these stomach-turning conditions. They are the unsung heroes of the food industry. These people make sure that when you go out you don't come home with a case of food poisoning - or worse. The following people share stories of the most disgusting places they've had to shut down.
"I was a Health inspector on the private side auditing 29 different chains in the US. I did a couple inspections a day for a little under three years. I can smell roaches the second I walk into a building (if they're present). They have a nutty oily smell that is very distinctive if you're around them often enough. That's a smell you never forget. I was in a popular buffet chain and couldn't find the roaches I smelled. I looked everywhere. I called my buddy who was a pest control officer. he came in, grabbed a LARGE shop vac and said, 'Move fast.' he lifted off the back of the soft serve ice cream machine and they poured out like a waterfall all over the floor. We got them all cleaned up. Soft serve ice cream machines all leak and typically they're not cleaned well. hot, wet and dark is the perfect place for an infestation.
Also, people don't' know how to wash and glove their hands. I cant tell you how many times I've seen cooks walk out of the bathroom with their gloves and apron still on. That makes my blood boil.
As well, People don't know how to properly cool a cooked product. I saw a 5-gallon cambro of rice in a walk-in freezer with no date. I asked how long it had been cooling and they explained for several days. Knowing that rice is incredibly difficult to cool, I asked them to dump it out onto a clean table. The smell of death (clostridium) filled the air. that rice would have probably killed someone.
Ice machines are never clean. 9 times out of 10 an ice machine has an active and pretty impressive slime mold in it. just stick your head in and look up.
Soda machines are also typically not clean. I can't tell you how many time I've pulled the cap off the soda machine to see maggots crawling around in the buildup. Think about that next time you order a coke at your favorite Mexican restaurant.
If you see a fruit fly in a restaurant, it's not because 'it's summer and everyone has them now,' It's because the drains in the kitchen are not clean and the flys are breeding in the scum impacted in the drain.
I was in a BBQ joint inside a casino. They told me that the place was an issue and they had washed their hands of the problems hoping they would just close shop. Needless to say, the flies were a problem. The biggest concern though was the prop table in the kitchen that had NEVER been cleaned. It was a very large and stainless steel table. The bottom of the table top was dripping with grease and fat from the BBQ. No clue how it got there. Maggots were crawling all over the underside of the table. The smell was nothing I will ever forget. This place served hundreds of people a day under gross incompetence."
"I'm a local health inspector in the South and I've seen some stuff. I will say this, on the whole, most places are pretty good. The truth is, 90% of any sort of sickness comes from improper hot or cold holding or bad cooling methods, so violations for looking dirty are relatively minor and cost only '1 point' in our system. The big violations are things that would actually get you sick. I say that because the whole point system is pretty arbitrary and I hate the whole placard thing, but I digress.
One year I had to shut down one of those overpriced inner-city family dollar-type places over Christmas because they had this infestation of rats that was like... wow. Like the staff had named the rats and followed their growth and progress over the months. There ended up being about 70, and their names were things like Whitey and Blackey. Seriously, what? At least be original and socially acceptable if you're going to ignore the major rat infestation in your store. When I got there, literally 90% of the food and pet food packaging was compromised so we had to throw it all out, and I HATE FOOD WASTE so it was a bad day. Nibbles on everything. Many rats shot out of the shelves as they started cleaning, which made me want to scream but I held it together and kept my fragile manliness intact. Then they were shut down for weeks while they disassembled their store, basically rebuilt everything, and completely restocked it. Merry Christmas from the Health Department. I didn't want to shut off food access to all the people in the neighborhood (I actually lived around the corner, so I knew what effect it would have), but thinking about them eating Hanta-laden Doritos for Christmas felt wrong on so many levels.
I've also seen a skink in the sink. As well, I made a vendor at the state fair toss over 1,000 pounds of meat (it truly broke my heart), seen and accidentally stepped in raw sewage bubbling up into a kitchen, and when I went to a slaughterhouse cafeteria I saw a multilayered cluster of roaches in a drain so thick that it looked like the concrete was rippling. Roaches upon roaches. No thank you. The whole place felt like there was a layer of hemoglobin on every surface."
"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 is a total loss since there were literally lobsters scattered across the highway covered in dirt, sand, etc.
Fast forward 24 hours and 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 whereby 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."
"My mom's an inspector and my favorite story is the woman who bought a bulk bag of rice from China. She starts working her way through it and the rice starts tasting a little funky. Whatever, it's not too bad and it was a great deal. Gets 3/4 of the way through the bag and finds a dead bird mummified in the rice. The strange taste was because the rice absorbed the bird juices and preserved the corpse.
The grossest story she ever told is probably the fish place that caught fire but didn't burn down. Turns out public health and the fire department need to go in to condemn the place. My mom comes in with her hard hat and some bulky boots, and the fire chief with her. The smell is horrible. Maggots everywhere. The fire chief bails in the first five minutes to go puke outside. Mom worked in a slaughterhouse and is pretty Metal, she just mouth breathes her way through it. Then, she starts hearing little plinking noises and feeling impacts on her helmet. It was freaking maggots on the ceiling falling on her. The place definitely got condemned.
A hilarious story was probably a call that came through for a skunk BITE. It turns out this toddler was at the grandparent's place on the back (raised) patio. He sees a kitty and rushes towards it in excitement. Definitely not a kitty. The skunk sprays the kid full in the face, the kid is screaming, falls on the skunk. The skunk is freaking out and bites the kid, the grandparents are horrified and probably never allowed to babysit the kid again.
The saddest/most upsetting are definitely the parents who won't let their kids get rabies vaccines. If you can't quarantine the animal or test the body, you can't know until it's too late. It's terrible that parents can condemn a child to potentially die of something so awful and preventable."
"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 rocks up one day unannounced on a blazing hot day in the middle of summer. The owner greets him and shows him around wearing a white tank 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 decides 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 notices that needs immediate attention is the deep fryer itself. The oil is old and filthy, and likely full of this guys hair, so he orders the bloke to drain it out right then and there. The owner does 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!'
Turns out a few months previously the shop was having a rodent problem, so the owner brought 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 mom was in her early 20's, she had started working as a waitress for the restaurant in this big fancy hotel. Just a few days after she started working there, the hotel was hosting some big event, so there were a ton of super-rich people staying there, and thus the restaurant was super busy.
So my mom goes into the kitchen at one point and sees that one of the chefs is clearly sick. He's coughing and hacking and continually wiping his runny nose on a handkerchief - right as he's making food. So my mom goes to her boss and is like, 'Hey, this chef is sick! He can't be working right now! He's gonna make everyone sick!'
Her boss tells her that the guy said he was fine and to not worry about it. So my mom goes to the sick guy and tells him that he has to leave to prevent the food from being contaminated. He tells her that he tried to call in sick, but the boss told him that they were going to be too busy and they needed him, and if he didn't show up for work, he'd be fired.
So my mom goes back to the boss and he admits that yeah, he knew the guy was really sick, but he didn't care if everyone else got sick as long as they got through the event. My mom tells her boss that this is wrong and that he needs to send the guy home, take back everyone's food, refund their money, throw out all the food that may have been contaminated, close the place down and clean it up.
He simply laughs at her and tells her she's fired. So she went and did the logical thing. She walked out into the dining room, stood on top of a table and shouted to everyone at the event that the boss forced a sick man to work today and all of their food was probably contaminated.
There was practically a riot. Everyone crowded around and screamed at the boss, demanding their money back. In the end, the restaurant was temporarily closed, everyone got their money back, the boss of the restaurant was fired by the owner of the hotel and mom got to keep her job."
"When my son was five 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 round 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 crisps 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 okay, thanks. What are the crisps for?' The one man said.
'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 crisps.
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).
(This story was pieced together from the report of the nanny, and also my son, who thought the whole thing was hilarious. The nanny's friend was quite relieved as she hated the job anyway)."
"I did 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 had 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 pick it up, take it out to carve off any contaminated bits and rinse it in boiling water.
Now it relatively often happened meat was dropped on the floor, 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 3 times. So first and foremost he's not supposed to be touching anything that's been on the floor. It cross contaminates his hands and he has nowhere to put the contaminated product anyway. He did this 3 times and dropped it 3 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, 6-kilo 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.
He was fired a few minutes after that, and the entire tub of product discarded."
"I had a health inspector tell me this story: There was a family in which both the elderly mother and a handicapped sibling used wheelchairs, another sibling lived in the house with them and did all the driving, etc. The health department got a phone call from the local wheelchair company. The brother stopped by and picked up a new, custom-built wheelchair for his sister and for his mother, and returned within about 30 minutes, saying that the sister's wheelchair hadn't been made to the right specifications; it was too small. After he left, the staff noticed several roaches on the chair, so the guy I met got a call. Apparently, it was summer (midwest: both hot and humid) and the house was all locked up, with no open windows for ventilation, curtains were drawn, etc. The inspector entered the house and he said it was so stifling hot that he started to get dizzy, and, he thought, hallucinate. He said that there was a sound like leaves rustling in the fall, and the walls and floors were kind of vibrating. He then realized it was because they were literally covered in roaches. He immediately evacuated the three people living there, and the next day, they tented and sprayed the house. He went in (in a Tyvek suit and knee-high rubber boots) and said that the dead roaches were about two and a half feet deep in most parts of the house."
"Two years ago a colleague in my department of food safety went to inspect a Chinese food place in a local town.
Everything was going okay (as okay as food hygiene inspections go for better-than-average Chinese food places) until she went to inspect the space upstairs above the kitchen - our policy is that where employees stay if it's in the same building, that is part of the premises. When she went up, she found a large number of illegal immigrants staying there.
The police were alerted and the place was closed down before reopening under another name. (I think registered under the owner's wife's name.) Another quick new premises inspection followed and it got a hygiene rating of 4 out of 5, which for the type of premises is about as good as you'd expect and it was left alone for two years.
Fast forward to last week, another colleague went to inspect the premises for their bi-annual routine inspection. You'll never guess what the police were called for again."
"My cousin was a Health Inspector for the city of Melbourne, Australia many years ago. Her advice? Never eat at Chinatown. There were dead fish floating in the tanks of seafood restaurants, with barely alive fish in the same tanks. Slime and mold in said tanks. Rusty surfaces used as chopping boards and mold covered wooden chopping boards. Raw meats were being prepared together with raw vegetables.
The lady washing the dishes at the cash register was the same lady that cleaned the toilets and made the dumplings. She never washed her hands
It doesn't matter how much you pay, whether you spent $200 on your meal or $20, they are all as filthy as each other. The most expensive and well known were actually the worst offenders.
Also, cockroaches. Cockroaches everywhere. There is no such thing as an expiry date. Sauces mask everything here.
There is a saying here though that many people are aware of, 'The nastier the place, the better the dumplings taste.'"
"My mom used to work at this restaurant where the owner just did not care. It was a Mexican restaurant and my mom told me that once a lady came in asking for Caldo de Res (beef soup) but they didn't have any more meat (at least not the one used for that dish). They were about to let the lady know when the owner stepped up and told the lady that her food would be right out. The server and my mom were both confused as to what she was going to do.
Well, this lady goes and literally DIGS THROUGH THE TRASH and pulls out some beef (some still with bone) she then ran it through water, cooked it and served it to that poor lady. My mom says the lady was even sucking the bone and she almost felt sick watching. My mom quit that job soon after.
Asked my mom again about it and she said the bone/meat was not raw, it was leftover from people who had ordered the same thing."
"My stepdad used to be a baker in an authentic recreation of an 18th century New French fortress. Because they sell bread to the public, the health inspector came by and she was ripping into my stepdad for violations like the stonework walls, the doorless entranceways, or the lack of a mosquito zapper. He pointed out that they were following the highest standards except for things that would destroy the authenticity of this 18th-century bakery. The health inspector relented and agreed to give him a pass after verifying the food storage area was secure. They went to the shed, which was a doorless building attached to the bakery. As the health inspector went in, there happened to be an escaped cow licking all of the loaves. My stepdad could only say, 'Honestly, this never happens.' They passed the health inspection."
(Points edited for clarity)