You need to have an iron stomach to be a health inspector. From roach-infested kitchens to year-expired foodstuffs, businesses are caught every day violating critical health policies, and most consumers have no idea. These health inspectors were brave enough to share the worst things they've come across, and you may be surprised just how bad some places actually are:
#1 Diner Secrets
When I worked at a breakfast diner, the health inspector came and the cooks took all the expired food out of the fridge. They stored it in their cars and by the dumpster until after the health inspector left and then they put it all back. I ended up quitting that job after I got written up for refusing to change the dates on the labels of all the expired food, which was one of the primary jobs of the graveyard server.
#2 Cats And Rats
A tuna canning plant in Los Angeles was off of Terminal Island. The processing plant owned the entire island a few miles offshore. Needless to say, you had to take a boat to the plant to look at some machinery that needed repairing. We get to the plant and there are dozens of cats, inside the plant, outside the plant, in the warehouse, etc. CATS EVERYWHERE! Nobody said anything. They were even in the office building. After a few trips, I finally asked. One guy said jokingly, "It's either rats or cats. We don't have a rat problem here."
#3 Passive Predator
The restaurant I worked at in college got closed down for a week by the heath inspector because of rats. My manager brought his cat in to try and get rid of some of the rats, but the dang cat was too fat to fit underneath any counters to actually catch the rats. Also, it's possible his mother never taught him how to break the neck of a mouse or rat, and how to consume one, which means even in peak physical form, it's unlikely he would harm a fly.
#4 Extra Protein
Not a health inspector, but heard this story through a guy who services my soft serve machines. For those not in the ice cream business, most soft-serve machines need to be cleaned (meaningfully disassembled, scrubbed, and sanitized) at least weekly, some every three days... He got a call from a woman complaining that the vanilla side of her machine was coming out with black specks in it.
He was worried it might be grinding up an O-ring or worse. He took the head off the machine and claims he nearly lost his lunch, as the barrel was infested with cockroaches. Apparently, the woman had never cleaned the machine in the several months she had been open. Somehow the roaches got into it (at night, the barrel stops freezing, and just keeps the mix cool, so it returns to a liquid) and were being ground up and expelled as additional protein. How long has it been doing this? About a week! Ew.
#5 Ice Cream Surprise
This happened at a McDonald's I worked at before. The friend I was with got a milkshake and took a couple of sips and began pulling foreign objects out of his mouth... enough to realize it was probably a bug. He went back up to the counter to discreetly tell them and ask for a refund. The girl copped a major attitude to which my friend said, "Well, fine—but you might want to check your machine regardless." She went and opened it up and all the color drained from her face. She gave him a refund.
#6 The Roach Problem
When I was a kid I had an allergy test done to see what I was allergic to. They test for dozens of different everyday things that people can be allergic to, but the one that surprised me was cockroaches. The nurse explained that there is generally a small number of cockroaches that get into food processing, especially flour and as a result anything made with flour. If you're seriously allergic to cockroaches, then there are many things you can't eat, because it probably contains ground-up cockroaches.
#7 Dairy Drama
I'm a NY dairy inspector and I inspect a lot of Jewish dairies. What I've noticed is the Jewish community in my area loves to do their own inspection. The problem is, they leave milk bulk tank doors open and rats, flies, and other critters get into the milk. The big problem is they never ask to do the inspection; they just walk onto the property and do their thing. Actions like that can shut down the whole industry.
#8 Heinz And Hunt's
There is a famous story about my grandfather, a Heinz aficionado and a man known to us grandkids as “Grumpy.” At a restaurant, he asked for ketchup and was given a bottle of Heinz. After slathering it all over his food he took a bite and immediately called the waiter back over. “My good man,” he stormed, “either you have served me rancid ketchup, which is illegal, or you have given me Hunt’s in a Heinz bottle, which is also illegal!”
#9 The Total Opposite
The owner of the Chinese restaurant I worked at was meticulous about cleanliness. Every night, the kitchen staff would scrub the floor and everything else down with soap and hot water. The dishwasher ran so hotly you could see the steam rising and had to wait for them to cool down before you could touch them without burning your hands. That place was clean and served some of the best Chinese food. The owner eventually retired and sold his land. Boy, do I miss the hot and sour soup!
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#10 Rinse And Repeat
So, a friend of mine is a health inspector. She walks into a local convenience store and discovers a litter box behind the counter. Totally unacceptable. She tells the proprietor that he needs to get rid of the litter box. That's kind of a health code violation. He replies, "Well, it's for the cat. We've been having rat issues." To which she's all, "Ohhhhh." The cat approaches. She tells him he can't have a cat in a food establishment. He hands the cat to his wife and she takes it out of the store to their camper trailer near the store. He waits for her to leave. Rinse and repeat.
#11 Old School Cooking
I worked in a restaurant and whenever a health inspector came, I had to go to the kitchen to tell the cooks to put on gloves and hairnets. It's not that they didn't wash their hands or anything, they were old-school with cooking, but still, it was a violation. Kind of gross actually. Cooks don't wash their hands when they use gloves, so ironically it ends up being more unhygienic.
#12 Pick And Choose
In a kitchen I once worked at, we had a health inspector come in and I was worried he'd spot the racks in the fridges I haven't cleaned for a couple of weeks. They weren't great and I had been away on and off. Nope, he told us off for not wearing plastic aprons over our actual aprons. It's almost as if they pick and choose what they want to get you on.
#13 A Shrimp Mess
While inspecting a Chinese buffet, I noted to the employees that there were tubs of frozen fried shrimp stacked on top of one another without covers, so they needed to discard the top layers of the food and put on the tub lids. As they scrambled to do so, they knocked over the tower of shrimp, spilling it everywhere. As I was standing there, they hurriedly started scooping the shrimp off the floor and back into the tubs. I’M STANDING RIGHT HERE YOU GUYS.
#14 Slum Scene
Rat infestation. Droppings everywhere in the place. Mountains of old cast-off equipment in the back (giving the rats a home). Meat defrosting on the hood of an inoperable car on the side alley. The back unit of duplex (now converted to food storage) had unfinished wooden boards on the floor, which were now soft and rotting from soaking up years of meat juice and everything else.
#15 Suspicions Confirmed
A guy ordered commercial sausage-making equipment delivered to his private home. The manufacturer got suspicious and tipped off the health department. Turns out the guy would go hunting all sorts of exotic game meat without permits, process them into sausages in his rat-infested garage (droppings the size of jelly beans), and was selling them to the public.
#16 The Rotten Floor
I was a health inspector long ago. It was at a Golden Corral, going through the kitchen area. As I was squatting down to check a dishwasher, my foot broke through the tile floor and into a sewer pipe that ran underneath. Cockroaches came boiling out of the hole. Turns out, the entire floor was rotten from a water leak in the sewer pipe. The worst part? The general manager tried to fight me when I told them they had to close down until they fixed the open hole into a pipe full of cockroaches and waste.
#17 Get A Room
In the mid-80s, I managed a pizza delivery store and the health inspector came by late and asked me to step outside. He started by apologizing but it was his job to follow up when they have a specific complaint concerning food safety but this one was odd. He proceeded to tell me a customer complained that while they were in the store two workers were making out on the counter and didn’t even wash their hands.
#18 An Off Taste
Not a health inspector, but when I was in my late teens I worked at a five-star restaurant where they were using potatoes and other produce with maggots in them consistently. Restaurants like these easily charge people $285 to $350 a head for events like New Year's Eve. They got shut down. I'm surprised they lasted that long without anyone noticing an off taste in their potato dishes.
#19 The Rivals
We had two rivaling Chinese restaurants in my part of town, and one of them got busted by health inspectors. It was REALLY nasty. It got into the newspaper and everything. So, ever since then, the remaining one has been subjected to a highly unusual number of "random" inspections, making the owners hypervigilant to the point where their restaurant is probably the cleanest place in the city now.
#20 Stamp Of Approval
The only time I've seen a health inspector in action was on my lunch break a few months ago at the Panda Express I frequent. Once he finished up, he packed his clipboard and other stuff neatly away and went to his truck. Then he came back in and ordered lunch. I felt quite secure in my choice after that. I'll always trust an expert's opinion on things like that.
#21 The Secret Code
As a health inspector, the best recommendation I can give a place is "I'd eat there." It's when I skirt around the issue that you know not to eat there. It's a legal thing—if word got around that I was saying something bad about a restaurant, I could get in trouble. Beware if I say: "That place is special." That's my secret code for a potential zombie apocalypse ground zero.
#22 Let It Burn
My brother worked at a popular UK restaurant and pub that basically microwaved and deep-fried most foods. His deep fryer lit on fire and they never trained him how to put it out properly, so he ran for the fire extinguisher when, unknowingly, directly overhead was something to press that was meant to put out fires very quickly.
#23 The CCTV Sees All
I used to work on my own as a baker in a supermarket and the cleaners would come in at 10 p.m. at night when the last worker left. He would be finished by 2 a.m. when I arrived. Well, one day, I was half an hour early and I walked up to my department. The cleaner was mopping the prep tables and the equipment with the same water he had used to clean the floor. I wish I was joking. To use the mop on the tables, to begin with, is stupid, but using the same water as well? Insane. I told his boss when he came in because I simply had to and his face was a picture. He really didn't believe me until I got him to have a look at the CCTV footage.
#24 The Heebie-Jeebies
The custodians at my elementary school would mop the floor, then literally pick up the mop and use it on the tables. Also, the mop water was perpetually dirty. The bucket was always left on the cafeteria floor and I was so fascinated by how dirty it was. I’d look at it a lot. I don’t think the water was being changed daily. It really gave me the heebie-jeebies.
#25 Mop Sink Kitchen
This didn't happen to me, but it happened to a coworker. They went to a Chinese restaurant for a complaint. They saw them thawing out raw chicken wings in the mop sink. It wasn't even the plastic basin mop sink, it was the one on the ground with the four-inch tile lip on it. It didn't even have the water running AND it was just in there. It wasn't in a container or a bag, it was just raw chicken on the mop sink tile.
#26 Results Pending...
Guys, it’s my first time in Bangkok, Thailand. I just went on a food tour. I don’t know if you know about Bangkok. But it’s humid as hell here. Some of the vendors had fish sitting in cardboard. Flies, cockroaches, rats, etc... As far as the eye can see. I ate all the food though. I’ll let you know if I die. I ate some of that left-out cardboard-laying fish.
#27 What A Cheapskate
Not a health inspector, but I used to be a busboy at a nice Italian restaurant in my home town. We had problems with the Chinese place across the street because we found out that they had been taking the lettuce that we throw in the dumpster at the end of the night. Our manager used to stand outside and guard the dumpster so they wouldn’t take our garbage.
#28 A Hole Situation
I was working at a local cafe. I was cutting up cheese from a walk-in fridge and I found a hole in the cardboard box that the cheese was kept in. Turned out, it was from rats or mice, and they were eating the cheese. I told my manager about it and he told me to cut around the bite marks and still use the cheese. I left that job shortly after.
#29 Five-Second Rule
Not a health inspector, but an ex-shift manager at a Sbarro. I watched the general manager regularly drop dough on the ground, pick it up, dust it off and then continue to prep it for pizzas. He also told the entire staff to cut around the mold on produce because it was too costly to buy new produce when our stock went bad. He was a terrible general manager (they also promoted him to a much busier location) and I regularly tell people to not eat there.
#30 Breeding Ground
I did pest control for 10 years and I've seen some stuff. I happened to get picked to take care of roaches and mice at a very heavily populated Somali business-type area. It spans about two city blocks and houses restaurants and shops. It was basically a four-wall warehouse partitioned off into sections inside. The horrors of roaches and mice in these restaurants was unlike anything I have seen. Literally both creatures walking over your feet, over the food, on the counters, in and out of the coolers, stoves, food storage bins, you name it.
#31 Dirty Kebabs
The current kebab shop I work at. Everything is clean, well kept, well maintained. The owner has a twin brother who also decided to open a kebab shop. I went to visit a few weeks ago. The cheesecakes are left in low-temperature cupboards rater than freezers, which isn’t cold enough so they have bright green mold. Every single egg there is expired. I checked with the egg in the water test.
The pizza doughs have all gone bad. You can even tell from the smell. There are milk cartons in the fridge that have been there for around two months. He offered me to come work there for £9 an hour, which in England is a lot for someone my age. I said no and I don't regret it, a health inspector is going to come there soon and close it anyway, hopefully.
#32 Shut 'Em Down
14-inch border of mold, dirt, and scum all the way around the edge of the restaurant. Boxes that had five-year-old shipping labels blocking the path to the mops, mop bucket, and mop sink. No sanitizer buckets. No sanitizer cloths. No sanitizer. Mold in the fans blowing over open food in the cooler. I didn't bother finishing the inspection. I just shut them down.
#33 Vegan Glass
Once, I ordered tacos from a high-end vegan restaurant in LA. When I bit into the taco, I felt immediately a hard chunk gently slice into the roof of my mouth. I pulled out a one-inch shard of glass from my taco. Management said they “accidentally broke a glass near the tacos and they thought they got all of it.” They offered a new plate of free tacos but I was like my mouth is bleeding. Why would I want another taco?
#34 Fast Food Woes
There was a Burger King near me that had black mold in the ice machine, and large holes in the kitchen where rats had eaten the walls and buried through. There was also a KFC that was cited for having broken glass and "other debris" on the serving line. I really don't get that one. A light bulb probably busted and they missed some while cleaning it up.
#35 High-End Dupe
I do a lot of polishing and chrome plating. I am NOT a health inspector but I do a lot of work for restaurants. I got a call to chrome plate some refrigerator racks. It's a common request. These are large 36" to 48" long racks and grills that the food sits on. This one high-end steak house called me in. Their racks were literally falling apart—rusted joints, old food hanging off of them... just disgusting. I explained it can't be repaired but they insisted that we just shine them up, do whatever is needed. I refused the job, left and wanted to throw up. I never went to that restaurant aver again. Immediately called the health department on them. I don't know what happened.
#36 The Sketchiest Joint
Not a health inspector, but I’ve seen some stuff. The worst was a restaurant a friend took me to. He loved it and said it was on him, but man, it was the sketchiest joint. If he hadn’t spent the whole trip talking about how he eats there twice a week and loved it so much, I probably would’ve left. The place was disgusting. Mold on the walls, dirty floors, piles of unwashed dishes on the customer tables, etc. When we left, I happened to notice the health inspection sign. They’d gotten a 36/100. I didn’t even know it was possible to score that low and stay open!
#37 Doors Wide Open
I helped my dad run his restaurant for a good five years, and my dad was (and still is, to this day) a big fan of "people seeing the fresh food as it was made," so we never had doors to the kitchen from either customer entry point, despite my insistence on it. Sure enough, it was the only thing the health inspector ever docked us for, and my dad solved the problem by just putting "doors" in but never closing them.
#38 Sandwich Sewage
I worked in a popular sandwich shop. Our floor drains were smelling rancid for weeks and we were backing up with what was assumed to be sewage. My manager told our owners every single day for three weeks that this needed to be fixed and they did nothing. So in the middle of my shift one day, a health inspector came in and immediately shut us down. My manager told me right there that she anonymously called the health department because that was the only way the owners were going to end up fixing the problem.
#39 Heard And Seen
The worst I've heard between my co-workers is a place that had mice floating in buckets in the basement with severe soiling of all surfaces. It was closed until they could clean it up. The worst I've inspected, at least in terms of public health safety, was a place that let their sandwich-making food sit out on a countertop without any cooling, and they were also using a residential dishwasher that couldn't sanitize their dishes. The owner just didn't manage any of their employees (owners make a huge difference; it's super obvious if they're consistently involved and care).
#40 Brown Ice
I’ve worked on ice machines during summers and Christmas breaks ever since I was 16. Well, one time I went to install a new machine at a restaurant with one of the other guys. We got to their kitchen and there were cockroaches absolutely everywhere. Now, this was gross enough, but it got worse. We took off the face of the ice machine to find a huge cockroach in the water sump. So every bit of ice that came out of that machine was cockroach ice. Never went back there and never will.
#41 A Splash Of Battery Acid
Not an inspector, but my significant other told me about what happened at a popular seafood restaurant in my town. A guy working the fry station had a magnetic kitchen timer above the fryer stuck to the hood vent above. One day, the timer fell into the hot grease. They managed to fish out the main plastic part, but the batteries were nowhere to be found. It was determined that the batteries must have disintegrated into the grease. Being a seafood restaurant in the south, half the menu is fried. The owner was too much of a skinflint to stop serving fried food and change out the grease during the dinner rush. So whoever ate catfish that night had it fried in a tangy alkaline grease.
#42 Caught In The Act
I once finished up a foodborne illness investigation, not finding much that could have caused the illness. I left at some point. I parked my car on the other side of the street in full view of the restaurant I was just at. I watched the dishwasher come out the back door, then hunch over and freaking puke all over the grass. Then he went back inside. I have mild emetophobia so I got a bit of a cold sweat, then ran across the street and basically dragged him outside.
#43 Mystery Slosh
Mexican restaurant in Washington state. I showed up and they were cooking in ankle-deep sludge from a backed-up drain. Their under-counter refrigeration was going out so they loaded up hotel pans with ice to keep things cold. Every time they pulled their doors open, nasty melted ice and meat juices would slosh out. I had to go out and tell everyone to stop eating the food. It was so bad.
#44 White Flag
Not a health inspector, I worked at a dining hall in college. During a health inspector visit, the health inspector knocked over a bunch of the papers we wrapped burritos in on the nasty floor. He proceeded to place all the contaminated papers back on the counter to be served to customers. Even healthy inspectors have given up on college dining services.
#45 Bug Bites
My mom is a health inspector, and she always told me how Chinatown was always the worst. Actually though, health inspectors also inspect other facilities, like apartment buildings, food transport trucks, and pools. I think for my mom, the global worst must have been an apartment complex in a poor area with cockroach nests in the ceilings. Apparently, when there are that many cockroaches, they get very feisty and are known to bite humans.
#46 Nasty Spinach
I used to work in a restaurant in New Jersey when I was in high school. The chef was to clean the spinach before the dinner rush got started so, because it was faster, this man took a mop crate where there is a desperate compartment to ring out the mop and put a T-shirt over that compartment... I think you see where this is going. He proceeded to take the spinach that he rinsed out, and RING IT OUT IN THAT COMPARTMENT. I refused to sell it to anyone who ordered anything with spinach for the entire weekend. Simply told them we were out and had them substitute it for something else.
#47 Don't Eat The Cheeseburgers
I worked in a McDonald's years ago and I had a co-worker that would lick her index finger every time she peeled a cheese slice off of the stack of cheese we would use to make cheeseburgers. It was as if she was trying to separate a sheet of paper from a stack of papers. I would watch her do this all day... I never said anything and I sure as heck never ate the cheeseburgers.
#48 A Lingering Smell
Not a health inspector but an electrician. I once did a job at my local Indian restaurant and had to open up the electrical board. The board was located high up on a kitchen wall and every single thing both inside and outside the board was covered in a horrible smelling, sticky brown substance that reminded me of tar. I don't know what it was but judging from the smell it wasn't fresh and my hands stank of it for nearly a week after.
#49 Gravy, Baby
I once worked in a restaurant where we pulled a half-eaten chicken back out of the bin, rinsed it under the tap and gave it back to the complaining customer. They demanded a new chicken as the order receipt fell in the dish and was served on top. No harm was done, just a minor mistake. This chicken was our last of the day. The customer wanted it back so they had it back. A little different than before but back in front of them covered in gravy.
#50 BBQ Procedure
I used to work at a very small BBQ place. Our ribs were dry-rubbed and smoked and you could get sauce on them or on the side. I can't even tell you how many times I saw the owner take ribs that had been sauced and rinse them off in the sink so he could serve them with the sauce on the side. Not quite as bad, but still horrible.