What's really behind a restaurant's health score?

Know how a restaurant is graded in a health inspection / Eric Mock (WGXA)

MACON, Ga. -- All restaurants should have a form with a grade on it displayed where all customers can see it.

But just looking at the grade probably won't tell you what you need to know.

If you walk into a restaurant for dinner and see a mess on the floor or smell something funny you might think that's the sign of a restaurant in need of a health inspection.

"Dirty floors, dirty walls, dirty ceilings, those are one point violations," said Rick Craft with the Department of Public Health.

He inspects each restaurant every six months and gives them a grade A through C based on how well they keep you healthy.

He said that the things you can see going into a restaurant, like dirty utensils, bathrooms or tables, are not the things that cause restaurants to get a low health inspection score.

"That's a pretty rough restaurant," Craft said. "That's one that we're going to get phone calls about. But if that's all that's wrong falling under those three headers, they actually have a 97."

The restaurant can still get an A even if you see roaches or mice inside.

"If you see rodent droppings in the store and add rodents to it, they still have a 94 because even though rodents carry some diseases, they don't carry food-borne illness diseases," Craft said.

It's all about what is most likely to get you sick when you eat their food.

Those types of violations are things you usually can't see like the temperature of food or whether employees touch your food with their bare hands.

That can cause a restaurant to lose nine points during an inspection.

Technically a food place can get an a grade of 91 but still have one of the nine point violations.

So what do health inspectors look at when they go to a restaurant?

"Most people don't know that you can do this or that there even is a second sheet," Craft said.

That second sheet he's talking about gives a complete list of the violations -how serious they were and whether or not they were corrected on-site.

It even tells you if this was something they'd violated before or a new one.

Fellow health inspector Donna Cadwell said that's what she looks at when she goes out to eat.

"We're going to read the back sheet anyway," Cadwell said. "We're not going to go by the score. We're going to look and see if they corrected it."

By law, a customer can ask for that second sheet anytime he or she wants. If inspectors do find a nine-point violation, the restaurant has to fix it before they leave. If the restaurant consistently has major violations, they can be subject to a closing hearing with the Department of Health.

The Georgia Department of Heath's website has a list of all inspection reports.

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