News Release

August 24, 2005

Food inspection reports online

Health inspections reports for Houston food establishments – ranging from swanky restaurants to mom-and-pop mobile food units and everything in between such as nursing homes, grocery stores and school cafeterias – are now online.

Generated by inspections conducted by the Houston Department of Health and Human Services (HDHHS), the online reports can help consumers gauge the sanitary conditions of a food establishment during the most recent visit by a health inspector.
Consumers can search food establishments by name, category and zip code.

“Mayor Bill White has challenged us to make City Hall the most efficient and responsive in the country,” said Health and Human Services Department Director Stephen L. Williams, M.ED, MPA. “This helps us meet that goal by making access to information more readily available to citizens.”

Factors that enter into a consumer’s choice of where to eat or shop include the price, type of food, location, customer service and atmosphere. However, one factor difficult for consumers to assess is the attention paid to food safety issues at food establishments. The reports provide consumers a general indication of compliance with regulations that help prevent food-borne illnesses.

During routine inspections, HDHHS’ inspectors spend most of their time evaluating food workers’ practices such as the receiving, storing and processing of food and the temperatures at which they cook, hold, serve, store and reheat food. They also check for deficiencies in the premises and for insects or rodents.
The inspectors conduct unannounced visits at least once a year to each of the approximately 12,000 food establishments in Houston. They perform additional inspections to an establishment as necessary based on the public health risks posed by the establishment and its past compliance history.

Compliance standards are related primarily to:

• food protection
• temperature of food
• food supplies
• employee hygiene and food-handling practices
• water supply and sewage disposal
• toilet and hand washing facilities
• garbage and refuse disposal
• pest (insects/rodents) control
• cleaning and sanitizing of food equipment and utensils
• maintenance of floors, walls and ceilings
• sufficient lighting and ventilation
• proper storage and display of toxic materials
• premises

Inappropriate food preparation and handling can lead to food-borne illnesses. The three most prevalent food-borne illnesses in Houston are hepatitis A, shigella and salmonella. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 76 million cases of food-borne illnesses occur each year in the United States. The most severe cases tend to occur in the very old, the very young, those who have an illness that reduces their immune system function and in healthy people exposed to a very high dose of an organism.