SPARTANBURG, S.C. (WSPA) — Valentine’s Day is Friday and now is the time to make last-minute dinner reservations.
Before you settle on a restaurant, though, you should consider checking its last health inspection score from the Department of Health and Environmental Control.
DHEC’s health inspectors grade businesses based on guidelines set forth by the state, which are in turn based on the Food and Drug Administration’s Food Code.
The 2017 Food Code — the most recent released by the FDA — is 767 pages from start to finish.
During inspections, which routinely occur one to four times per year or on a case-by-case basis of complaints, DHEC inspectors will grade restaurants based on a 100-point scale.
Grades will also be assigned a corresponding letter score: A is the highest (87-100 points), B is mid range (78-87) and C is the lowest score (below 78).
“With restaurant inspectors, they do have a form that they will look through,” said Dr. Kimberly Baker, Food Safety and Systems Team Director at Clemson University.
Small infractions — like forgetting to clean a can opener after each use — carry less weight in grading than large infractions — like improperly labeling chemicals.
“There are a lot of little things when you’re working in a rush – or you’re working in the high-intensity environment that this is – you tend to forget little things,” said Kristen Grissom, Department Head at Culinary Institute of the Carolinas.
DHEC’s inspectors are tasked with quantifying infractions, big and small, and coaching restaurant staff toward better habits.
“[Inspectors] have got a hard job to do, too, where they’re coming through and making sure people are getting fed safe food,” Grissom said.
When 7News reached out to DHEC for this story, both the department and its inspectors declined interview. However, DHEC did respond to email inquiries.
The department offers an online tool where users can review restaurants’ most recent scores and why they received particular grades. For that tool, click here.
Experts recommend checking scores before booking reservations for Valentine’s Day.
“Of course we all want to have food that tastes really good but it’s ineffective if it’s not going to keep us safe,” Baker said.