Tools of a Food Safety Inspector’s Trade
A Denver health official snoops in restaurant kitchens and takes the temperature of prepared food
By Frederick Dreier in the Wall Street Journal
Most people go to a restaurant for creative cuisine, or a comfort dish. Antonio Pasquarelli goes looking for things that are much less pleasant.
A food safety supervisor with the Department of Environmental Health in Denver, Col., Mr. Pasquarelli inspects restaurants, food manufacturers, convenience stores and even edible marijuana laboratories for rodent droppings, spoiled food and botulism. Each food business is a potential petri dish capable of growing harmful bacteria and disease.
On-site examinations root out practices that tend to create health hazards. He checks machinery and preparation surfaces for cleanliness. He peers into dark, hard-to-reach spaces for animal droppings or signs of cockroach infestation. He tests the temperature of stored foods. Rapidly cooling foods, such as pudding or flan, are regular culprits for contamination, Mr. Pasquarelli said.
Clockwise from lower left: Laptop and printer; Denver Department of Environmental Health inspection form and rules and regulations; summons forms; Order to Close form, inspection checklist with pens and markers; iPhone; ID and badge; digital light meter; Thermocouple food thermometer and alcohol swabs; pH and chlorine test strips, Thermolabels, To Be Retained label, multi-tool, flashlight. Photo: Terry A. Ratzlaff for the Wall Street Journal
Mr. Pasquarelli’s keen eye catches restaurant violations that could elude other testers. Before becoming a safety inspector, he worked in the industry for 19 years. “I take all of that knowledge I gained from restaurant management and apply it to these businesses,” Mr. Pasquarelli said. “It’s just that now I’m looking at them through the lens of food safety.”
Restaurants’ safety violations often involve staff, he said. A cook might stockpile food items next to sanitizer or cleaning products, which could create a poisonous cocktail. Improper hand-washing is common. Eating and drinking in food-prep areas are other frequent no-nos.
Mr. Pasquarelli brings a bag of instruments and tools to each inspection. A sensitive food thermometer known as a Thermocouple tests temperatures with a metal probe that can penetrate deep into a prepared dish. Paper testing strips identify improperly mixed sanitizing fluids by changing color depending on the concentration of chlorine or ammonium.
Another handy strip, called a Thermal Label, identifies the temperature of dishwashing machines and other heat-creating devices by turning black at a specific temperature.
Mr. Pasquarelli’s other tools are surprisingly low-tech. He snaps photos of violations with a digital camera. A light meter tells him if a kitchen is inadequately lit, which could lead to accidents. He records violations on a laptop, and prints out forms with a portable printer.
He uses a high-powered pocket flashlight to examine dark spaces. Perhaps most important is a multi-tool that Mr. Pasquarelli uses to probe drains for obstructions, chip away mold and tighten loose screws and bolts.
Another useful item is the steel badge that announces Mr. Pasquarelli’s presence to restaurant managers. During the actual inspection, though, he says he often hides it so as to avoid drawing attention to himself.
“I’m there to make sure that proper sanitary procedures and hygienic practices are followed,” he says. “It doesn’t matter whether [it] is a convenience store of a fancy sushi restaurant downtown.”