Some Restaurants Still Confused About Law

After the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit exposed a broken restaurant inspection system last year, the county has revamped its website and passed a new scoring system. Yet some Silicon Valley restaurants are still confused about the law that requires them

Starting this fall, Silicon Valley restaurants will begin getting scored but until then, the only way for a customer to know what a restaurant’s inspection report looks like is to ask.

And according to California law, they have to show it to you.

However, NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit went undercover and found some restaurants still don’t know the law.

The Investigative Unit first exposed restaurants ignoring this law back in February, 2013, taking hidden cameras into more than a hundred Bay Area eateries from Santa Clara to San Francisco and asking to see inspection reports.

Since then, Santa Clara County has sent out notifications reminding them of the law. After the Unit’s reporting, the Board of Supervisors passed a scoring system that will begin October 1st and revamped its website to include more information for customers.

The Investigative Unit went back undercover this month, going to visiting 10 Santa Clara County restaurants that had recently been shut down by the health department. We asked the same question: can we see your inspection report?

At a Burger King in Santa Clara that had previously been cited for not showing county inspectors its report, the manager asked why we wanted to see it. He then directed the team to a sign on the wall that reads “the inspection report is available for review upon request.” When the team said that was not the report, he went to the back for several minutes and returned with it.

The company told the Investigative Unit that particular ocation is a franchise and that the staff are being retrained to reinforce state guidelines. 

The team also returned to a Denny’s location in Sunnyvale we first visited in 2013. Back then, the manager would not let the team view the report and said it had never been shut down, even though this was not true, according to county health inspection records. 

When we returned this time, the manager produced the report, but denied that the location has been closed. 

Records show the Denny’s was shut down earlier this year because of a sewage overflow.

The company told the Investigative Unit the manager may have been confused over the details of the situation and that:

"we are committed to complying with state and local requirements and as it relates to health inspections in Santa Clara County, we have reminded all team members of the requirement to provide health inspection information upon request to any customers who inquire."

“Honesty is important and one of the problems is that there’s a lot of looseness in our system,” Scott Brunson, a professor of Food Safety at Mission College in Santa Clara, told NBC Bay Area. “You’re paying for it, you should get safe food.”

Brunson also served on the county advisory board that helped choose the grading system for Silicon Valley earlier this year. He believes that one problem that exists with the system: few consequences.

“Until people call the health department or report that they’re not getting the inspection records, there's really not any consequences on a lot of these operators who’ll continue to not show the inspection record,” Brunson said.

At Infused Grill in Sunnyvale, a woman identifying herself as the owner for the past three years told the team, “Sorry, I don’t let anybody see our actual report.”

“If there was something wrong they would have shut down us,” she said. “Well you better don’t eat here then,” she said as she walked away.

She denied ever being shut down, but records show the county closed the restaurant last year after live mice were found on the floor of the sushi prep area.

When asked with visible cameras, the General Manager produced the report, shouting, “She didn’t know better,” and that “she will know from now on, the answer is yes.”

“It’s discouraging,” Jim Blamey, Director of Environmental Health for the county, told NBC Bay Area.

“It’ll be much more visible now with our placarding program, with our scoring system and the inspection reports.”

Blamey says the new website rolling out this fall will also help. Since the original NBC Bay Area Investigation, the county has begun revamping the information available online. Beginning this fall, the actual inspection report will also be accessible online.

“It’ll provide the public a lot more information than we currently provide them,” he said.

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