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Nowadays, everybody is a food critic. From the local drive thru to metro Detroit's finest five-star establishments, websites such as yelp.com and urbanspoon.com allow anyone with an Internet connection to critique one of the more than 10,000 restaurants in the tri-county area, regardless of their palate or knowledge of food and food preparation. Ultimately, the most important reviews for a restaurant are often the ones conducted by the local health department.
Anthony Drautz, administrator for Oakland County's Health Division, said that while the department sometimes receives reports from restaurant patrons of food-related sickness, the number of actual confirmed food-borne illness cases is actually far less than people tend to believe.
"A lot of people call when they get sick, and we screen them. But a lot of people don't even remember what they ate 48 hours ago, or they have their mind made up of what they ate that made them sick," Drautz said. "Sometimes they will call an hour after eating something, but there is an incubation process, and they probably didn't get sick there."
In most cases, he said, food-borne illnesses require an incubation period to effect a person and make them ill.
"They have to give us a 72-hour history of what they ate so we can investigate all of the facilities," he said. "In many cases, it's not the last place you ate."
Under Michigan's Food Law, restaurant inspections must be conducted by local health departments. Fixed restaurants that operate on a year-round basis are required by law to be inspected twice a year. Other food establishments, such as mobile food vendors and temporary pop-up style restaurants may be inspected less.
As the entity in Oakland County responsible for restaurant inspections, Drautz said the health division conducts between 17,000 and 18,000 inspections each year. That includes bi-annual restaurant inspections of fixed restaurants; follow-up inspections; mobile food sellers; vending machines; Special Transitory Food Units (STFU), or temporary food establishments licensed to operate throughout the state; and other temporary food establishments.
During an inspection, restaurants may be given violations for different levels of safety concerns. Violations aren't uncommon. In fact, almost every restaurant has had a violation at some point during its history and owners work to resolve them as quickly as possible, according to the Michigan Restaurant Association.
"When we conduct an inspection, what we are mainly looking for are those times that are directly linked to food borne illnesses. Although we look at everything, a large focus of our inspections are preventing food borne illness," said Michelle Estell, public health sanitarian supervisor with the Oakland County Health Division, who supervises the county's 35 inspectors, or sanitarians. "Other things we look at are based on the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention's) five risk factors. For example, poor personal hygiene; foods that are cooked to the wrong temperatures; foods that are held at the wrong temperature; contaminated food surfaces; as well as the food source itself, making sure that it comes in safely and comes from a source that is approved. There are many questions we ask the operator to determine, such as how things come into their facility, how things move through the facility and how things are prepared, based on our visual inspection. And, we are taking temperatures and doing a visual check of things....continued on page 2