Over the past few weeks we’ve been investigating the ins and outs of restaurant health inspection as part of our upcoming program, Time Out Talks. The first TOT will deal with these very issues (find out more here if you’re into it). For our first story we talked to the City of Sydney’s top health inspector to get an idea of health inspection from their perspective. Then we spoke to a clinical gastroenterologist in order to tell you how to know if you’ve got food poisoning from a restaurant. And now we’ve talked directly to five Sydney restaurant/café owners to find out some of the craziest things they’ve been asked to change from health inspectors.
One restaurateur told us he was asked “to replace the entire ceiling of a kitchen.” But the ceiling wasn’t actually broken. “This ceiling was constructed to code when built, but was no longer compliant.” So that must have been annoying. Health inspectors also came to a very large pop-up event he was holding and asked him to install “sneeze guards… with each stall provided with very basic facilities.”
We spoke to a restaurant in Sydney’s north, who were asked to move a bin that jutted out slightly from below a sink. The health inspector wanted them to move it into the middle of their tiny kitchen. That made it more of a trip hazard than it was originally. Around the same time, the council told them that they had to move all of their recycling bins out from the back lane and into the middle of the kitchen too. Meaning they'd be left with no room to move around (or to cook) and their kitchen would have been filled with rubbish bins. The whole thing felt counter-intuitive from an OH&S and hygiene perspective, so they decided not to comply.
An inner city café told us that some health inspectors have odd requirements on cleaning. “She asked us to get rid of the commercial-grade cleaning products that we had used at many other venues (that had been more than suitable) and formulate her specific ratio of bleach:water and use that to clean every surface,” the owner says. The inspector also had strong feelings about wood – something we touched on in our recent story, too. He continues, “A thing a health inspector has asked us to change was the bamboo/wooden chopping boards (that were made for food) that we served food on. She actually wanted us to lacquer them and put down grease-proof paper before laying the food down.”
For another inner city restaurant though, it’s been pretty plain sailing. “The craziest things we’ve ever been told is more just things like needing to install a larger hand washing basin, or changing the positioning of a hand towel dispenser to match up with code!” So it’s not all bad.
It turns out some health inspectors can be pretty sneaky. Another restaurateur told us this little ditty: “These two guys used to come into my café every Wednesday, and I’d go and get two really nice bits of meat. I’d sell them two steaks, and I wasn’t licensed but I’d sell them a bottle of wine. I got to know them and one of them was a health inspector. He told me ‘I really should be shutting you down, but this is my favourite café.’”