10 Signs your fave restaurant failed its health inspection

Nov 20, 2014 at 9:30 a.m. ET

OK, food detective, next time you go to a restaurant, take a look around. You'll probably find diners enjoying their meals without a care in the world. What you're not likely to find are obvious clues this restaurant has failed its health inspection.

You think it'd be obvious when a restaurant and the health inspector just aren't seeing eye to eye. In your worst nightmares, you can imagine being served a salad with a side of roach or raisin bread that's not really raisin bread at all. Unfortunately that's just not the case, since even the laziest restaurateurs can lay out a roach motel or two. No, the signs that you're headed to Tummyacheville are more subtle but there if you know where to look.

1. The squeaking you're hearing ain't from the chairs

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GIF credit: Giphy

Squeaky chairs would be bad enough, but actual critters in a restaurant is bad poker. Again, you're rarely going to see the obvious signs of rodents in a restaurant, but your other senses (smell and hearing in particular) will clue you in that they're there.

2. The "employees must wash hands" sign is a mere suggestion

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Seriously, washing hands isn't just a good idea; it's the law. If you see restaurant workers ignoring it, then at the very least, don't order the salad. At best, get the heck out.

3. How long has that been sitting out?

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GIF credit: Giphy

Like Matt Damon at the end of Saving Private Ryan, food goes gray. If you're at a place where food sits out for a long time (be it a buffet, fast-food or sit-down joint), then there's a good chance all sorts of bad stuff is going on. Granted, "long time" is measured in hours, but still, it's a good thing to watch for.

4. Gordon Ramsay

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If Gordon Ramsay filmed there, then leave. Don't argue. Just go.

5. The health inspection certificate is current — as of the time Reagan was in office

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If the last health certificate, elevator inspection or liquor license you can see is older than a year or two, then get the heck out. A restaurant can still operate even after being cited by the inspector, so if they're not current, then you're not ordering.

6. Extra flavors in your ice

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The ice machine is the single greatest source of contamination for your dinner. So if your ice tastes funky, then get the heck out.

7. "Bloody Finger" needs a Band-Aid

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If you think, in any way, your server is a health risk, then the restaurant is probably a health risk.

8. The owner ignores other details — why should he care about health?

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Health codes aren't hard to follow. Raw foods should be kept away from cooked foods; food should not be stored on the floor; hands should be washed; food should be thrown out after two hours… This isn't a tricky list. On the other hand, if the owner of the place fails to vacuum, swat flies, treat his people well, etc., then what else is he neglecting?

9. What's that smell?

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GIF credit: Giphy

A foul odor isn't a sure sign of a health violation. On the other hand, what, exactly, is causing that smell?

10. Any worker that reminds you of this guy from Road Trip


This one pretty much speaks for itself…

More on food safety

Yelp health score ratings: Coming soon
How to avoid foodborne illnesses
5 Things to do every time you pack your child's lunch

Top photo credit: J. Triepke/Flickr//Original photo was cropped but not altered for this article.

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