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Restaurant Report Card: A behind-the-scenes look at health inspections

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Each week we bring you the Hamilton County Restaurant Report Card, a look at area eateries and how they are doing back in the kitchen and dining areas regarding cleanliness and food preparation.  

This week we’re taking you behind the scenes for an up-close look at what health inspectors do each day. Managers at Cheddar's on Gunbarrel Road gave us permission to visit their restaurant with a health inspector to do this story.

Inspectors like Lowe Wilkins with the Hamilton County Health Department show up, wash up and hit the kitchen like a whirlwind examining everything in a little more than an hour.

READ MORE | Channel 3's Restaurant Report Card

“We come to each restaurant unannounced. We do it two times a year, every six months. Unless there is a complaint, and then we also respond to that complaint,” Wilkins said.

High-risk foods like meat, milk, cottage cheese and eggs are probed for proper temperatures. Employees are checked for wearing gloves and overall cleanliness, and when cleaning plates and utensils, all surfaces must be sanitized after they have been cleaned and rinsed.  This can be done by using heat or chemicals. And when it comes to dented cans that we hear a lot about?

“The concern with the dented cans is botulism,” Wilkins said. The bacteria can get inside the can and cause it to expand. Botulism is a rare, but serious illness that can be fatal.

So what's the difference between a high and low score?

“Quality control,” Wilkins said.

These days the focus among inspectors is on cross contamination in Hamilton County, and it's better known as risk-based inspections. This simply means things like norovirus, salmonella and E. Coli will make you sick. 

“They’re made up of five categories. Basically hygiene practices, the actual proper cooking temperatures, the actual hot holding and cooling processes, cross-contamination, as well as the actual origin of the source of where the food comes from,” Wilkins said.

Inspectors check out the bathrooms and dining areas, but new Tennessee state guidelines are now emphasizing foodborne illnesses. For instance, if an employee comes into work sick, the manager must send that person home. The inspectors are always studying safe food practices not only at restaurants but also at events like Riverbend.

The grade a restaurant scores must be posted and yes, managers will tell you a low score does impact business. The management knows immediately about any problems found. The inspectors are there to not only critique but educate. It’s part of their skill set to even land such a job

They have to have a four-year degree in a science-related field mostly biology or microbiology and environmental health.

I say it each week that if you have a problem with a restaurant in Hamilton County you are asked to call the help line at 423-209-8110. All complaints will be investigated. And if you want to know more about the current inspection process, check out the Hamilton County Health Department's website.

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