As COVID-19 case reports are slowing down and the state is lifting mask restrictions, some people are finally returning to their favorite evening or weekend hobby – eating out!
Most people have cooking fatigue after being stuck at home for over a year during the pandemic. But this may have diners wondering: How did restaurants and their health policies fare during the global health crisis?
The Advocate reached out to the Benton County Health Department and received summary reports for how restaurants in the county overall have scored on health inspections in 2020 and the first months of 2021.
The state of restaurants in the county was somewhat grim in 2020 compared to years previously. 300 restaurants, including the fancy, the fast food, and the food trucks, were registered in Benton County last year. Of all these establishments, only 45% of full-service restaurants and just over half of the mobile food services in the area were inspected in 2020. Compare this to the 92% and 70% of dine-in and mobile establishments (respectively) that were inspected in 2019, and considering that the state of Oregon recommends restaurants be inspected twice a year.
But take this news with a grain of salt – pun intended – and remember that 2020 was not such a great year for anyone, especially the food industry.
Thankfully, 2021 is looking better in terms of COVID and so is the story of adequately inspecting restaurants in the county. So far this year, 35% of dine-in establishments and 30% of mobile food trucks have been reviewed by the Benton County Health Department. As COVID restrictions continue to loosen and more people get vaccinated, these necessary inspections should be increasing.
However, looking at the reports in greater detail may further cause regular restaurant-goers some concern, as there were 105 health violations reported of the roughly 150 restaurants that were inspected last year. While this is startling — that can pan out to 70% of establishments violating some health code — the summary report does not indicate if more than one violation was recorded per restaurant. That means one inspection could have resulted in multiple violations, which is typically the case.
To put things in perspective and calm anxious restaurant patrons, Benton County conducted almost 600 inspections in the year before the pandemic. From those 600 inspections, almost 450 violations were reported. These health violations can range from contaminated equipment to improper food holding temperatures to poor personal hygiene of employees.
While this may gross some people out, it’s important to remember that most restaurants will receive a slap on the wrist at some point for a violation. This is the name of the game when having other people cook your food. There were no food-borne illness complaints registered through the Benton County Health Department last year, which means that you should feel at ease while dining at your favorite brewery, pizza place, or burger joint again — as long as you’re taking CDC recommended steps to be COVID-conscious.
The Oregon Health Authority is currently in the process of transferring Oregon’s state-wide restaurant data repository to a cloud-based system that will allow both the public and state to access inspection results and analyze data more easily. However, you can look up individual restaurant inspection reports and see how your favorite eatery scored through the county’s inspection report webpage.