Author: Ashley T. Davis, Richmond, VA Personal Injury Attorney
Food poisoning is a common – yet preventable – public health problem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases each year.
Most cases of food poisoning last a few hours to several days, and are accompanied by symptoms that resemble intestinal flu. However, food poisoning can be deadly – particularly in cases of botulism, or when food poisoning strikes infants, the ill, the elderly, or those with compromised immune systems.
In Virginia, facilities that prepare and serve food to the public are required to have a license and to submit themselves to periodic inspections in order to ensure that they are safe. Licenses must be prominently displayed within the establishment.
The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) inspects each facility one to four times per year, and describes the results of its inspections in a report. These inspection reports are available electronically at the following website: http://www.healthspace.com/Clients/VDH/VDH_Website.nsf.
Although the website is called the “Restaurant Inspection Website,” it is not limited to restaurants. The VDH publishes the inspection reports for almost every facility where food is prepared and served, such as schools, daycare centers, adult living facilities, gyms, public and private clubs, hospitals, nursing homes, colleges, and correctional centers.
The inspection reports are organized alphabetically by locality, and then by facility name. For example, in order to view past inspection reports for the Panera at Willow Lawn, simply click on the county where the restaurant is located (Henrico), select “View Facilities,” and then click on the link for Panera or type “Panera” into the search box.
Violations are typically classified as either critical, posing a direct or immediate threat to safety, or non-critical, representing a failure of cleaning or maintenance. In the example above, inspectors did not find any violations when they inspected the Panera at Willow Lawn on January 30, 2015.
It is important to keep in mind that inspection reports might not reflect the overall long-term cleanliness of the establishment because they are a "snapshot" of the day and time of the inspection. On any given day, a restaurant could have fewer or more violations than noted in the report. According to inspectors, it is unrealistic to expect that a complex, full-service food operation will be completely free of violations. Inspectors also note that many inspection violations are corrected on-the-spot prior to the inspector leaving the establishment.
Nevertheless, in order to reduce the risk of food poisoning, consumers might wish to avoid facilities that frequently have critical violations, especially if follow-up inspections reveal that the facilities have not corrected their critical violations.