Special Report: Restaurant Regulators - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Special Report: Restaurant Regulators

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By Ben Roberts - bio | email

August 11, 2008

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - How safe is the food at your favorite restaurant? This summer's e-coli outbreak in Colquitt County and that nationwide salmonella outbreak may have you worried.

You can't walk into a restaurant kitchen to see if it's up to standards, but that's exactly what restaurant inspectors do on your behalf every day.

Martin Carter has served hungry folks in Albany pretty much his whole life. His family's downtown restaurant is an Albany landmark.

Carter's has been around "40 years," he says. "We opened in 1968."

When you walk into Carter's Grill and Restaurant, you can expect old fashioned southern soul food.

 "We serve good ox tails, barbeque ribs, chitterlings, fried chicken, and we're famous for your collard greens, peach cobbler, candied yams," Carter says.

They also work hard to serve food that's safe. "We never serve a customer a dinner that we would not eat."

Jim Pericaud helps make sure the food at Carter's and your favorite restaurant is safe.

"Most of them do very well,"  he said.

Pericaud oversees a team of restaurant inspectors in the Southwest Health District. It's serious work. "There's a whole lot of serious diseases that can be transmitted through food, and they can cause very serious problems."

Last year, the state  instituted stricter food safety rules for restaurants. "There's more emphasis on risk factors," Pericaud said.

That means inspectors take an especially close look at the health of employees, where a restaurant's food comes from.

"All the meat in there is all USDA stamped." And how they handle the food. "We're up to 190 now. That's good."

That's good because food must be kept at a minimum of 135º after it's cooked. Otherwise, there's a danger. "The problem is it would create an environment that is conclusive to bacterial growth," Pericaud said.

Inspectors also check the temperature of coolers and freezers, and make sure food is stored safely.

"One thing we look for in here is separation of potentially hazardous food to make sure there's no cross-contamination."

The inspections are extremely detailed. Inspectors make sure utensils are not only clean but sanitized. There are even rules about how disposable plates and utensils are kept.

The new rules include new scores. Numbers and letters. As and Bs are fine.

"If a facility scores a C, they are reinspected at the discretion of the Health Department," said Pericaud.

If they score a U for unsatisfactory, they must pass a reinspection within two weeks or shut down.

Pericaud says we all need to watch out for health code violations when we eat out, and we shouldn't hesitate to report problems to the Health Department. "It's always wise to be careful."

But he says despite all we hear about food dangers these days, the vast majority of restaurants are safe. "When you consider all the thousands of food suppliers and hundreds of thousands of food items that are handled in this country every day, we have a good safe food supply."

Martin Carter knows it's in his best interest to keep it that way and to make his customers a guarantee. "Good safe food, that's correct, with friendly service."

So maybe his family restaurant will serve southern cooking to south Georgians for another 40 years.