Restaurant Report Card: Behind the scenes with a health inspector

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DENVER -- Twice a year, Denver Environmental Health inspectors go to restaurants in the city, and sometimes they uncover health code violations that can make the public sick.

It’s a job Richard Pruckler doesn’t take lightly.

“What we try to do when we go into a restaurant just like this is to ensure that nobody is going to get sick," he said.

Pruckler started his inspection at DiFranco’s on Lincoln Street in downtown Denver by washing his hands.

Employees not washing their hands is a common mistake.

The investigator is looking for critical violations that can cause food poisoning and noncritical violations that are more about keeping the facility clean and orderly.

Critical mistakes

The critical mistakes include personnel issues, food source problems, hand washing, pest control and storage of toxic items.

RELATED: Inspection form.

DiFranco’s owner invited the health department in for a critical look.

“It’s super important," Ryan DiFranco said. "You don’t want to get anybody sick. The health department is not the enemy. They are here to help us out and educate and make sure we are serving quality food at safe levels.”

The inspection

First stop, the cooler. With thermometer in hand, the inspector is looking for temperature violations.

Cooked and noncooked food must stay in safe zones.

“We want to make sure specific foods, potentially hazardous food, food that can have bacteria growth occur if held outside of temperature control," Pruckler said.

Food should be maintained in the safe zones with cold food below 40 degrees and hot above 135 degrees.

Safe zones for food temperatures

“Right now you are at 40 degrees so that’s great," Pruckler said.

Another critical issue a lot of restaurants see is not having sanitizing solution strong enough, but not too strong that it is toxic.

The solution is used to clean dishes, and counter and table surfaces. Pruckler tested the sanitizing solution.

“We won’t want the concentration of the sanitizer too high because then we could leave a chemical residue on surfaces. We don’t want it to be too low then it won’t bring its proper effect bringing bacteria levels to a safe level.” Pruckler said.

Food storage can also lead to food poisoning.

“Are we storing the food correctly?" Pruckler said. "Raw foods, like raw chicken on the bottom and ready to eat foods up top.”

Restaurants must also have a series of sinks used for specific reasons.

There must be a hand-washing sink that is used only for hand washing.

This time of year it’s essential for restaurants to enforce their sick policy.

“We talked about employee illness," Pruckler said. "I’m glad you are paying attention to that. That’s important. That’s a way we can get people sick.”

Pests and critters

And, of course, rodents and flies are critical violations. There were no issues at DiFranco’s, but there are plenty of mice, rodent droppings, flies and fly strips at several restaurants in the metro area.

“Do I see some sort of pest or a critter crawling on the wall? That’s something that would be a red flag,” Pruckler said.

Employees not washing their hands, using single-use gloves more than once and using a common towel are all critical violations.

“It’s never our intent to try to close a restaurant or hinder someone’s business," Pruckler said. "We really want to be a resource and be someone to help that operator.”

Denver Environmental Health has issued multiple cease and desist orders forcing restaurants to fix the violations or face closure.

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