This is an archived article that was published on in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated.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" Target="_BLANK">

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."

Top food-handling violators in the Salt Lake Valley

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" Target="_BLANK">

NameAddressHow many


Snowbird/ Aerie Lounge9500 E. Little Cottonwood Cyn19
Snowbird/ Rendezvous9500 E. Little Cottonwood Cyn10

Total Alta eateries with critical violations: 26


Peking Wok11483 S. State St.24
Asian Buffet280 E. 12300 South20
Applebee's Neighborhood Grill105 E. 12300 South15
Neil's Halibut & Seafood112 E. 12300 South14
Gandolfo's185 E. 12300 South11
Citris Grill219 E. 12300 South10
Fong's Fine Chinese Dining877 E. 12300 South10
Guadalahonky's136 E. 12300 South10
KFC/ A&W674 E. 12300 South10

Total Draper eateries with critical violations: 108


Sharon's Cafe2263 E. Murray Holladay Road10

Total Holladay eateries with critical violations: 39


El Habanero8164 W. 3500 South15
5 Buck Pizza8537 W. 2700 South12
Beto's Mexican Food8025 W. 3500 South12
Ken's Sandwiches8519 W. 3100 South10
McDonald's No. 240423540 S. 8400 West10

Total Magna eateries with critical violations:39


Nagoya Sushi Restaurant1086 E. Fort Union Blvd.18
Bohemian Brewery & Grill94 E. Fort Union Blvd.17
Arctic Circle No. 2057210 S. State St.16
Golden Corral665 E. 7200 South13
Jumbo Buffet6930 S. State St.12
Outpost Cafe7711 S. State St.12
Arctic Circle57 W. Center St.11
Hopper's Grill & Brewing890 E. Fort Union Blvd.11
J. Morley's BBQ and Catering100 W. 7720 South11

Total Midvale eateries with critical violations: 133


Golden Isle Chinese671 W. 5300 South24
Summer School Food Program 2008788 E. Woodoak Lane20
Jim's Family Restaurant No. 8894 E. 3900 South12

Chick Fil A 6191 S. State St. 11

Mimi's Cafe5223 S. State St.11

Total Murray eateries with critical violations: 139


Golden Tree Restaurant1722 W. 12600 South14

Total Riverton eateries with critical violations: 60


Panda Buffet Restaurant1025 W. North Temple St.53
Big Ed's210 S. University St.49
East Sea Restaurant120 N. 900 West43
O'Shucks22 E. 100 South36
Crazy Jim's Buffet & Grill250 W. 2100 South35
Totem's Private Club538 S. Redwood Road34
Dee's Family Restaurant No. 112085 S. Redwood Road32
Hunan Garden2121 E. 2100 South30
Campos Market775 S. 900 West29
Jade Cafe234 W. 900 South29

Total Salt Lake City eateries with critical violations: 1,077


Log Haven6200 E. Millcreek Cyn. Road19
Marie Aallender's No. 00931109 E. 3900 South15
Lone Star Taqueria2265 E. Fort Union Blvd.13
Cafe Trio Cottonwood6405 S. 3000 East12
Taqueria el Rey de Oros4153 W. 5415 South12
Cottonwood Club1780 E. Lakewood Drive10
Einstein Brothers Bagels No. 7312351 E. 7000 South10
Lumpy's3000 S. Highland Drive10

Total Salt Lake County eateries with critical violations: 236


Philadelphian9860 S. 700 East19
Dairy Queen9327 S. 1300 East18
Mimi's Cafe10470 S. State St.17
Willow Creek Restaurant8505 S. Willowcreek Dr.16
Chef Ming2097 E. 9400 South15
Mi Ranchito Grill9550 S. State St.15
Einstein Brothers Bagels No. 125372 E. 10600 South14
Hidden Valley Country Club11820 S. Highland Dr.13
Jim's Family Restaurant10640 S. Holidaypark Dr.13

Total Sandy eateries with critical violations: 253


Market Street10702 S. Riverfront Pkwy24
Astro Burgers10452 S. Redwood Road20
Guckenheimer / Ultradent505 W. 10200 S.19
China Wok1594 W. South Jordan Pkwy16
Maccool's Public House11610 S. 3800 W.16
Kneaders962 W. South Jordan Pkwy15
Cafe Mona Vie10855 S. River Front Pkwy14
Madeline's Restaurant1133 W. South Jordan Pkwy13
Pie Pizzeria of South Jordan10627 S. Redwood Road12

Total South Jordan eateries with critical violations: 90


Taqueria La Guadalupana266 E. 3300 S.22
Roger's Catering Commissary3551 S. West Temple St.15
Crown Burger3270 S. State St.12
David's Kitchen45 W. 3300 S.12
Greek Market and Deli3205 S. State St.12
Rice Bowl2500 S. Main St.11
Good Spirits999 W. 3300 S.10
The Wellington Sr. Residence4522 S. 1300 E.10

Total South Salt Lake eateries with critical violations: 68


Crazy Buffet4150 S. Redwood Rd.50
Crazy Buffet3841 W. 5400 S.13
Salt Lake C.C. Cafeteria4600 S. Redwood Rd.12
Virg's Restaurant5770 S. Redwood Rd.12
Pearl Express3544 W. 6200 S.11
Apollo Burgers1847 W. 5400 S.10

Total Taylorsville eateries with critical violations: 112


Dairy Queen7872 S. Redwood Rd.40
Golden Corral Restaurant8860 S. Redwood Rd.27
Jims Family Restaurant No. 57609 S. Redwood Rd.26
Thai Wild Ginger1407 W. 9000 S.20
Tepanyaki Japanese Steak House7233 S. Plaza Center Dr.16
La Luna Mexican Restaurant3754 W. Centerview Way14
Famous Dave's Bar B Que7273 S. Plaza Center Dr.13
Archibald's Restaurant1100 W. 7800 South12
Iggy's Sports Grill7268 S. Plaza Center Dr.11

Total West Jordan eateries with critical violations: 184


El Paisa Grill Fresh Mex2126 S. 3200 West31
Asia Palace1774 W. 3500 South29
JB's Restaurant No. 314795 W. 3500 South22
Apple Spice Junction2235 S. 1300 West19
Kowloon Cafe2055 W. 3500 South19
Rancho Market2470 S. Redwood Rd17
Olde English Grill4701 W. 2100 South15
Ogie's Cafe3515 S. Redwood Rd.14
Tay Do Supermarket3825 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.