By Lawrence D. Weiss

Americans are twice as likely to get food poisoning from food served in restaurants compared to food prepared at home. Here in Alaska you can find recent food safety inspection reports for your favorite restaurants (Warning! After you read the inspection reports they may not be your favorite restaurants any more). But first a little background.

Food poisoning is common and often quite serious. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that there are about 48 million cases of foodborne illness annually. This is the equivalent of one of every six Americans suffering food poisoning every year.

Annually these foodborne illnesses result in approximately 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. Of course, the most important question for us is: here in Anchorage, fine dining or food poisoning?

Anchorage restaurant inspection reports

I got on the Anchorage restaurant inspection reports database and searched for my favorite Italian restaurant. Up popped a summary of recent inspections of that restaurant. The latest inspection took place October 1 of this year. The score was 97%. Pretty good, but there were three violations. 1) “Potentially hazardous foods” were not being cooled properly before refrigeration. 2) “A common towel was used to cover foods such as noodles.” And this was a repeat violation from a previous inspection. 3) “Ensure the vent hood and vent hood filters are cleaned and maintained clean of debris. Also, ensure the interior cavity of both microwaves located on the cook line are cleaned and maintained clean of debris.”

Ick. “Debris” is such an unappetizing word. I think we will continue to eat there, ever so hopeful they clean up their vent hood and microwaves “debris” before our next visit. Moving on, I had the idea to search for the list of restaurants in my zip code area. It’s a pretty long list, but a hamburger place I have never dined in caught my eye. It’s a personal weakness, especially for a guy trained in public health – I love a good hamburger. Clicked on details. Yikes!

Eight violations (!), and a very low score of 88%. Despite the fact that the last documented inspection was March 2017, the passage of time does not necessarily translate into a cleaner place. A quick peek at Yelp seems to indicate that some recent customers were not especially impressed by the establishment’s cleanliness either. In any case, some of the violations inspectors found include:

“Raw eggs stored over raw beef, and raw pork stored over vegetables.” It’s the “dribbling” problem. Very disgusting.

“Remove all aluminum foil, cardboard, and newspaper from storage areas as they are not cleanable. Use plastic or rubber shelf liners that can be cleaned.”

“Ensure all fan guards, cold holding doors and handles are cleaned and maintained clean of dried debris.” Yuck! “Dried debris” all over the place.

“Several areas throughout the facility are in need of cleaning and repair... Ensure exposed sheetrock is sealed to prevent harboring pests.” “Debris” AND “pests.” Hmmm. Think I’ll get that burger somewhere else.

Are your favorite restaurants too gross to eat at? Use your web browser to search for “Anchorage Food Safety and Sanitation Program.” Near the top of the page you will find this sentence: “All food establishments, temporary food service and pool/spa facilities within the municipality inspected by municipal health inspectors are posted online.” Click on “posted online,” and you are transported to a nearly blank page. On the left side of the page is a short list of subjects, one of which is “Inspection Reports.” Click on it, and you are presented with the inspection report search form. This is where the fun begins. You can search by: the name of a particular restaurant

a street name, so you get a list of all restaurants on that street zip code, so you get a list of all restaurants in that neighborhood

Click on a specific restaurant of interest, and a list of previous inspections pops up. Click on any inspection for a detailed summary of violations. A “perfect” total score of 100 indicates that no violations were noted. Scores below 80 could result in a near-term reinspection. Facilities scoring 70 or below could be temporarily closed until they remedy their violations.

About 75 percent of the inspections average point totals in the mid 90s or better. Call (907) 343-4200 for information or to file a complaint about any restaurant in Anchorage.

restaurant inspection reports for the rest of Alaska

Outside of Anchorage, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation inspects restaurants in the rest of the state. Do an Internet search for “Alaska DEC food inspections.” Click on the green box, “Search Inspections.” That takes you to the search page where you can search for detailed restaurant inspection reports by community, zip code, or by full or partial restaurant name.

My brother used to work in Ketchikan, so on a whim I created a list of all restaurants in Ketchikan. Found a seafood place with several violations, so I checked out the details.

“The facility’s refrigeration unit in the storage area was heavily soiled with food debris and drippings... Additionally, the hood over the fryers had food debris and oil build up that was forming drips.” Very unappealing. But the best was yet to come.

“The employee bathroom currently does not have a door installed. The bathroom is open to the back-storage area... where the refrigeration and freezer units are kept. Operator agreed to install a door that is tight-fitting and self-closing after the busy tourist season is over.” So, if you are dining in this place during the “tourist season” and the customer bathrooms are full and you really have to go, there is always the “open plan” employee bathroom with an inspirational view of the refrigeration units...

Oh well… bon appetit!

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