Why half of all Boston restaurants are failing health inspections

By Kailen Santos
BU News Service

BOSTON — When eating at a restaurant, patrons may be paying close attention to the letter score posted at the front of the establishment. But the universal scoring system, which grades inspections from A to C, might not be completely telling of what’s really happening behind the counter.

This year alone, 2,513 out of Boston’s 4,152 food establishments failed routine inspections. Some restaurants, such as The Real Deal in West Roxbury were even hit with as many as 90 violations since January. Some crowd favorites have made the list of businesses that have failed inspection this year.

The Boston Inspection Services Department operates on a scoring system, which deals point deductions for varying levels of violations. Non-critical violations, which don’t include food contact citations, make up the majority of violations in 2018. The next jump in violation level is considered critical, meaning the violation is in regards to food but is not extremely hazardous. This category ranges anywhere from cleaning food surfaces to pest problems. The most offensive violations are called foodborne critical and can often lead to foodborne illnesses. These violation types result in two, seven and ten point deductions, respectively. Once those points are tallied, a letter score can be determined.

But if a restaurant has been hit with numerous violations and a failed inspection, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s doomed. In fact, it’s often typical that a restaurant will fail an inspection simply to make sure that it is fulfilling its duties upon the next inspection. In order to pass an inspection, a business must receive no more than three non-critical violations

“If you fail the initial inspection, as long as you take care of those violations and they come back next week and they’re resolved, then you’re doing fine,” said Brandon Pattite of The Real Deal. “It’s the businesses that don’t fix the problems that get shut down.”

In a 2017 interview with Boston Magazine, Inspectional Services Department Commissioner William Christopher echoed that sentiment, stating that the department “[tries] very hard to work with the restaurant establishment to make it right.”

What’s more alarming than the volume of violations is the specific type of violation that a business might receive. While inspections might be frequent, sometimes the damage done might be irreversible, especially in the case of critical foodborne violations. This year, 75 percent of failed inspections included citations for foodborne violations. The most common type of violation in this category comes from the people in charge of maintaining the restaurant poorly, but other top offenses include food temperature holding and cross contamination.

Repeat offenders of multiple critical foodborne violations often fail inspection, which may not come as a surprise. However, these restaurants have not shuddered, meaning those violations could potentially still be occurring behind closed doors. While eating at a restaurant with critical foodborne violations may be inevitable, it is possible to avoid repeat offenders if need be. For more information on critical restaurant violations, see the mapping of restaurants that have been given critical foodborne violations this year, or go here to search for a restaurant in the system.


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