How clean is that restaurant? We analyzed Reno's food inspections — here's what we found
See if RGJ Editor Kelly Scott's kitchen passes a food safety inspection. Jason Bean, RGJ
Reno's food scene is no longer just buffets and coffee shops.
The city's growing restaurant scene — up 12 percent since 2012 — features more than 3,600 options, from the humble hot dog stand to high-end restaurants, according to Washoe County's food permits.
Inevitably, some of those restaurants will get somebody sick because of a foodborne disease — a problem that hospitalizes about 128,000 Americans and kills 3,000 more each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Northern Nevada is no stranger to the dangers of major outbreaks of dangerous foodborne diseases. In 2015, 25 people — including eight children — got E. coli after eating tainted chocolate mousse cake prepared by the now-closed Reno Provisions restaurant. It was the worst E. coli outbreak in Washoe County history.
On average, Washoe County has reported about four cases of E. coli each year since 1992.
To help our community know whether local restaurants are largely keeping a safe and tidy shop, we analyzed every restaurant inspection since Washoe County started its new inspection process in October 2016.
We also created a searchable database that we will update monthly. You can search for restaurants by name, address or inspection result. Click on the restaurant name to view any violations that restaurant got.
First, check out our restaurant inspection database. Or scroll below to view our findings.
First, how do restaurant inspections work?
Restaurant inspections conducted by the Washoe County Health District got a makeover a couple of years ago.
Instead of the familiar grading scale of 0 to 100, the county adopted a simplified — and they say easier to understand — system (you can dive into the weeds here). Now, all inspections have one of three outcomes: pass, conditional pass or fail.
Generally, restaurants that get two or more “critical violations” — mistakes in the restaurant that are more likely to get customers sick — get a conditional pass followed by an immediate re-inspection.
If those violations are so bad or if there’s no way to fix a serious problem on the spot, like sewage seeping into the kitchen, then an inspector will temporarily close a restaurant and issue a failing grade, said Amber English, a senior environmental health specialist for the Washoe County Health District.
“If they can’t correct that, then that’s an automatic closure," English said. "So if they had a floor drain that was backing up into their facility, it would be an automatic permit suspension until they could correct that.”
A fraction of restaurants got the majority of critical violations
Out of the more than 7,100 restaurant inspections conducted since October 2016, the vast majority of restaurants passed with flying colors.
Roughly 87 percent of restaurants in town passed inspection with less than one critical violation on average.
For the remaining 13 percent of restaurants, inspectors found enough serious violations to give the business a conditional pass and a warning to clean up.
If a serious problem couldn't be fixed on the spot, inspectors gave the restaurant a failing grade and a forced temporary closure, which has happened 30 times since October 2016.
Notably, the 431 restaurants with either conditional or failing grades accounted for nearly 60 percent of all critical violations — the type of problems that could cause customers to get sick.
On average, those restaurants got three critical violations, but in the worst cases some restaurants got up to 10.
MAP: This map shows all restaurants that got either a conditional (orange) or failing (red) grade. The larger the circle, the more critical violations the restaurant got for that particular inspection. Map by Brian Duggan/RGJ.
The most common violation? A dirty kitchen
Since October 2016, inspectors have given restaurants more than 9,800 violations at restaurants in town.
More often than not, inspectors cited restaurants for not keeping the place tidy — for things like broken floor tiles and grime behind machines.
It's the critical violations that got restaurants in trouble, though.
The most common critical violations often included malfunctioning refrigerators, which meant food that was supposed to be cold was too warm — and potentially harboring dangerous bacteria.
Other common problems included broken dishwashers and storing raw meat above ready-to-eat foods.
Here are the most common critical violations — the kinds of mistakes that are more likely to get people sick:
The inspection system isn't perfect
Helping prevent outbreaks of food-borne disease is a key role of the 19 food inspectors employed by Washoe County — and they have a big workload, English said.
That means inspectors need to do up to 330 inspections a year. For a restaurant that does well, the process can take about 90 minutes.
Sometimes, there are errors — something the county tries to prevent by auditing its inspections.
For example, 44 restaurants that got two or more critical violations walked away with a passing grade when they should have received a conditional pass, according to an RGJ analysis of the restaurant inspection data.
In larger cities, like Las Vegas, county health inspectors get to specialize — some only do restaurants, some only do hotels, for example. In Washoe County, that's not the case.
“There was a time when we did have more specialists, but I think as we started to grow we kind of had to spread the workload out in order to get it all done," English said. "And I don’t see that, because we are continuing to grow, I don’t see that changing.”