This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
It's 3 a.m. when the unbearable stomach cramps begin. As you pull your knees to your chest, and wait for the inevitable, you can't help but ask yourself: "Was it the chicken sandwich I ordered at dinner?"
If you dined in Salt Lake County, your restaurant choice might help determine the answer.
The chance of getting a food-borne illness is greater at a "mom and pop" restaurant than at a national chain, according to an analysis conducted by The Salt Lake Tribune of Salt Lake Valley health inspection reports.
In 16 of Salt Lake County's 18 cities, the dining establishments with the highest number of critical health code violations over the past two years were small Utah-based businesses. Critical violations pose the greatest risks to public health and include infractions such as storing raw meat over fresh vegetables or storing food at a temperature that promotes bacterial growth.
All types of restaurants topped these city lists, from buffets and seafood restaurants, to brew pubs and drive-ins.
Of course, small and local does not mean deadly.
Utah restaurants serve 2.5 million meals a day, so the number of people who actually get sick eating out is miniscule. And oftentimes, people assume restaurant food made them sick, when they're often to blame for their own improper handling of food at home.
Still, diners who want to ensure a Salt Lake County restaurant that they frequent is clean and preparing food properly can turn to restaurant-inspection reports for nearly 3,900 food service facilities -- from fine dining restaurants and fast food outlets to schools and hospitals -- now available on the Salt Lake Valley Health Department Web site at http://www.slvhealth.org" Target="_BLANK">http://www.slvhealth.org
Consumers can search by restaurant name, address or city as well as through a four-star rating system. The system ranks restaurants on a scale from one to four, based on how well each fared compared with similar establishments. Restaurants that earn four stars are in the top 25 percent of their comparison group.
In addition to the star ratings, consumers can view the number of critical and noncritical violations a restaurant received during routine inspections. Critical violations are posted in red lettering. Noncritical violations, considered more cosmetic or building related, are listed in blue. The site also shows the results of follow-up inspections. It's a massive amount of data, as Salt Lake Valley Health Department conducts about 5,600 food-related inspections each year.
Since the site was launched, it has had more than 1.5 million page views.
The Tribune analyzed the data on a city-by-city basis and found that during the past two years, locally owned restaurants collect more critical violations than their chain counterparts.
The finding did not surprise Bryce C. Larsen, director of the Health Department's Bureau of Food Protection.
"National chains have the financial means and resources to do whatever is needed to address safety issues and employee training," Larsen said.
In nine cites, ethnic restaurants had the most violations. The problem in these restaurants often can sometimes be attributed to employees who cannot read, write or speak English fluently, explained Melva Sine, director of the Utah Restaurant Association.
Different cultural practices also play a role.
In many Asian countries, for example, when making traditional fried rice, the cooked rice is left at room temperature overnight to harden. Of course, in America, that is a serious health code violation.
"In their homeland, they focus on tradition, but in America we focus on safety," Sine said. "We just have to work with those owners to help them understand that their focus has to change."
Employee turnover -- which at some establishments can be has high as 77 percent in a year's time -- is another problem for many restaurants.
With an ever-evolving staff, "there's never a time when you are not trying to educate and train new employees about food-handler practices, new technology or the latest strain of flu," said Sine.
Despite the statistics, that doesn't mean you should avoid every neighborhood diner.
"A lot of smaller, family owned restaurants do extremely well," with the health department, said Larsen.
David Barker, owner of Cafe Med in South Salt Lake, said after talking with colleagues in larger operations, he believes inspectors are often harder on the "little guys."
"They let the big chains and hotels get away with certain practices, but they get us for every little thing," he said, adding that he finds the inspectors are always willing to help him work out solutions.
"They will let you fix things while they are still there, so it's not on your list," he said, adding that instead of being confrontational, "inspections always seem more like a group effort."
From Alta to West Valley City, eateries receiving the greatest number of critical food-safety violations from the Salt Lake Valley Health Department between Dec. 21, 2007 to July 15, 2009 ranged from ski resort restaurants to school cafeterias. Below is a city-by-city list of the top violators with at least 10 critical violations or more. For a complete listing, visit http://www.slvhealth.org" Target="_BLANK">http://www.slvhealth.org
|Snowbird/ Aerie Lounge||9500 E. Little Cottonwood Cyn||19|
|Snowbird/ Rendezvous||9500 E. Little Cottonwood Cyn||10|
Total Alta eateries with critical violations: 26
|Peking Wok||11483 S. State St.||24|
|Asian Buffet||280 E. 12300 South||20|
|Applebee's Neighborhood Grill||105 E. 12300 South||15|
|Neil's Halibut & Seafood||112 E. 12300 South||14|
|Gandolfo's||185 E. 12300 South||11|
|Citris Grill||219 E. 12300 South||10|
|Fong's Fine Chinese Dining||877 E. 12300 South||10|
|Guadalahonky's||136 E. 12300 South||10|
|KFC/ A&W||674 E. 12300 South||10|
Total Draper eateries with critical violations: 108
|Sharon's Cafe||2263 E. Murray Holladay Road||10|
Total Holladay eateries with critical violations: 39
|El Habanero||8164 W. 3500 South||15|
|5 Buck Pizza||8537 W. 2700 South||12|
|Beto's Mexican Food||8025 W. 3500 South||12|
|Ken's Sandwiches||8519 W. 3100 South||10|
|McDonald's No. 24042||3540 S. 8400 West||10|
Total Magna eateries with critical violations:39
|Nagoya Sushi Restaurant||1086 E. Fort Union Blvd.||18|
|Bohemian Brewery & Grill||94 E. Fort Union Blvd.||17|
|Arctic Circle No. 205||7210 S. State St.||16|
|Golden Corral||665 E. 7200 South||13|
|Jumbo Buffet||6930 S. State St.||12|
|Outpost Cafe||7711 S. State St.||12|
|Arctic Circle||57 W. Center St.||11|
|Hopper's Grill & Brewing||890 E. Fort Union Blvd.||11|
|J. Morley's BBQ and Catering||100 W. 7720 South||11|
Total Midvale eateries with critical violations: 133
|Golden Isle Chinese||671 W. 5300 South||24|
|Summer School Food Program 2008||788 E. Woodoak Lane||20|
|Jim's Family Restaurant No. 8||894 E. 3900 South||12|
Chick Fil A 6191 S. State St. 11
|Mimi's Cafe||5223 S. State St.||11|
Total Murray eateries with critical violations: 139
|Golden Tree Restaurant||1722 W. 12600 South||14|
Total Riverton eateries with critical violations: 60
SALT LAKE CITY
|Panda Buffet Restaurant||1025 W. North Temple St.||53|
|Big Ed's||210 S. University St.||49|
|East Sea Restaurant||120 N. 900 West||43|
|O'Shucks||22 E. 100 South||36|
|Crazy Jim's Buffet & Grill||250 W. 2100 South||35|
|Totem's Private Club||538 S. Redwood Road||34|
|Dee's Family Restaurant No. 11||2085 S. Redwood Road||32|
|Hunan Garden||2121 E. 2100 South||30|
|Campos Market||775 S. 900 West||29|
|Jade Cafe||234 W. 900 South||29|
Total Salt Lake City eateries with critical violations: 1,077
SALT LAKE COUNTY
|Log Haven||6200 E. Millcreek Cyn. Road||19|
|Marie Aallender's No. 0093||1109 E. 3900 South||15|
|Lone Star Taqueria||2265 E. Fort Union Blvd.||13|
|Cafe Trio Cottonwood||6405 S. 3000 East||12|
|Taqueria el Rey de Oros||4153 W. 5415 South||12|
|Cottonwood Club||1780 E. Lakewood Drive||10|
|Einstein Brothers Bagels No. 731||2351 E. 7000 South||10|
|Lumpy's||3000 S. Highland Drive||10|
Total Salt Lake County eateries with critical violations: 236
|Philadelphian||9860 S. 700 East||19|
|Dairy Queen||9327 S. 1300 East||18|
|Mimi's Cafe||10470 S. State St.||17|
|Willow Creek Restaurant||8505 S. Willowcreek Dr.||16|
|Chef Ming||2097 E. 9400 South||15|
|Mi Ranchito Grill||9550 S. State St.||15|
|Einstein Brothers Bagels No. 1253||72 E. 10600 South||14|
|Hidden Valley Country Club||11820 S. Highland Dr.||13|
|Jim's Family Restaurant||10640 S. Holidaypark Dr.||13|
Total Sandy eateries with critical violations: 253
|Market Street||10702 S. Riverfront Pkwy||24|
|Astro Burgers||10452 S. Redwood Road||20|
|Guckenheimer / Ultradent||505 W. 10200 S.||19|
|China Wok||1594 W. South Jordan Pkwy||16|
|Maccool's Public House||11610 S. 3800 W.||16|
|Kneaders||962 W. South Jordan Pkwy||15|
|Cafe Mona Vie||10855 S. River Front Pkwy||14|
|Madeline's Restaurant||1133 W. South Jordan Pkwy||13|
|Pie Pizzeria of South Jordan||10627 S. Redwood Road||12|
Total South Jordan eateries with critical violations: 90
SOUTH SALT LAKE
|Taqueria La Guadalupana||266 E. 3300 S.||22|
|Roger's Catering Commissary||3551 S. West Temple St.||15|
|Crown Burger||3270 S. State St.||12|
|David's Kitchen||45 W. 3300 S.||12|
|Greek Market and Deli||3205 S. State St.||12|
|Rice Bowl||2500 S. Main St.||11|
|Good Spirits||999 W. 3300 S.||10|
|The Wellington Sr. Residence||4522 S. 1300 E.||10|
Total South Salt Lake eateries with critical violations: 68
|Crazy Buffet||4150 S. Redwood Rd.||50|
|Crazy Buffet||3841 W. 5400 S.||13|
|Salt Lake C.C. Cafeteria||4600 S. Redwood Rd.||12|
|Virg's Restaurant||5770 S. Redwood Rd.||12|
|Pearl Express||3544 W. 6200 S.||11|
|Apollo Burgers||1847 W. 5400 S.||10|
Total Taylorsville eateries with critical violations: 112
|Dairy Queen||7872 S. Redwood Rd.||40|
|Golden Corral Restaurant||8860 S. Redwood Rd.||27|
|Jims Family Restaurant No. 5||7609 S. Redwood Rd.||26|
|Thai Wild Ginger||1407 W. 9000 S.||20|
|Tepanyaki Japanese Steak House||7233 S. Plaza Center Dr.||16|
|La Luna Mexican Restaurant||3754 W. Centerview Way||14|
|Famous Dave's Bar B Que||7273 S. Plaza Center Dr.||13|
|Archibald's Restaurant||1100 W. 7800 South||12|
|Iggy's Sports Grill||7268 S. Plaza Center Dr.||11|
Total West Jordan eateries with critical violations: 184
WEST VALLEY CITY
|El Paisa Grill Fresh Mex||2126 S. 3200 West||31|
|Asia Palace||1774 W. 3500 South||29|
|JB's Restaurant No. 31||4795 W. 3500 South||22|
|Apple Spice Junction||2235 S. 1300 West||19|
|Kowloon Cafe||2055 W. 3500 South||19|
|Rancho Market||2470 S. Redwood Rd||17|
|Olde English Grill||4701 W. 2100 South||15|
|Ogie's Cafe||3515 S. Redwood Rd.||14|
|Tay Do Supermarket||3825 S. Redwood Rd.||14|
Total West Valley City eateries with critical violations: 312
*Bluffdale, Cottonwood Heights and Herriman had no restaurants with 10 or more critical violations in the period analyzed. The number of eateries receiving any critical violations was three for Bluffdale, 23 for Cottonwood Heights, and 13 for Herriman.