Restaurant inspection reports now at your fingertips

It's often said you eat with your eyes first, but would you still be hungry if the cook that prepared your meal wasn't being sanitary?

That's where Tony Dede and his team come into play. He's the Adams County Health Department's Chief Environmental Sanitarian.

"When we're writing our inspection report we have 45 items that we look at roughly, 13 of them are considered critical violations and we will focus our inspection on those items first," Dede said. "Those are our priority items that we look at."

But just because a restaurant looks clean doesn't mean it's safe. One way to be sure a restaurant meets health requirements is to look at its inspection report.

"For example, critical violations might include safe food sources, food temperatures, cross contamination, hygiene, hand washing, insects and rodents, sewage and back up, those sorts of things," Dede said.

The Adams County Health Department now puts those reports on its website here.

"We were getting a lot of demand or request from the public to know what was going on in our local restaurants," Dede said. "They were curious on how they were doing on the inspections and rather than filling our a Freedom of Information Act we decide it would be more easily available to go to our website and allow them to go right to the source."

"We have a lot of regular customers that come in here all the time and even new customers that are coming in and I want them to know that the kitchen is clean and that our employees are clean and that their food is being prepared in the way that it should be," Park Bench owner Sue Schmidt said.

You can access the reports by going to the health department's website, clicking inspection reports and typing in the name of the restaurant.

The report that shows up on your screen is the same document the inspector used during his visit. But make sure to read the print carefully.

"There's been some confusion because we highlight our topic areas, our critical violations in red but that doesn't mean they did bad, that's just trying to draw the customers eye and the inspectors eye to what the critical violations are," Dede noted. "Unless you see a number of violations marked in front of that box, it's not a violation."

The reports also show comments or suggestions written by the inspector.

"They like it when we teach them how to do things better," Dede said. "They like it when we say 'this is not a good thing,' and give an explanation why it's not a good thing."

"Sometimes there could be isolated incidents that could be occurring during that time, so I think as a consumer, when they're looking online they should look and see if there was a follow up report with that or if something was corrected that they may have found," Thyme Square owner Erica Shupe said.

"If they fixed it, customers can see that they may have had a problem one day but they did take care of it," Dede mentioned.

It's important to note that all restaurants are not created equal. They're broken up into three categories - high, medium and low priority. Think full menu restaurants versus the snack bar at a movie theater. The higher they rank, the more often they're inspected.

The department is required to keep reports on restaurants for up to five years. The webpage housing the online reports was launched in July but it only has reports from 2012. That's when the department went digital.

Another tool the health department launched is a QR code. It's labeled on every restaurant's inspection certification. All you have to do is scan it with your smart phone and it takes you to the website where you can look up reports. The only problem is, good luck finding the code. Restaurants aren't required to have them out.

That shouldn't stop you from checking out the places where you're eating and deciding if its operating up to your standards.

"Putting these inspections online gives the customer the opportunity to make that decision for themselves," Dede said.

Because after all - you are where you eat.