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Opinion

Confessions of a Nassau restaurant inspector

A man carrying huge portion of burger and

A man carrying huge portion of burger and fries. Photo Credit: iStock

When I got a job as a restaurant inspector for the Nassau County Department of Health in the 1990s, one of my first inspections was at a place in East Meadow where I’d eaten just the day before. I had a hamburger and found it to be fabulous, one of the best I’d ever had. The meat was thick and juicy, the bun perfectly toasted, the lettuce crisp and the tomato zesty. I licked my lips, not wanting to miss a morsel of its deliciousness.

I saw the name of the hamburger place among several on a worksheet.

“I ate there the other day,” I told my boss. “The meat was so tasty!”

A smile crawled across his large, round face and his eyes lit up with interest. He tapped his finger on the sheet next to the name of the restaurant.

“Make sure you inspect this one today,” he said, “but do it before lunch.”

On my way out, I noticed my supervisor chuckling with an older inspector. I narrowed my eyes and looked sideways at them as I left. Hmmm.

I arrived at the restaurant, and the aroma of broiled meat made me salivate. Deciding to make the basement my first stop, I introduced myself to the manager and walked downstairs.

The basement was dim, cool and cavernous. My eyes scanned the gray concrete floor.

And then I saw them. They were everywhere — rat traps in corners, next to storage bins, in the middle of the floor, near the walk-in refrigerator. Further, they were full. There were more than 10 dead rodents, their bodies frozen in bizarre poses, freeze-frames of their attempted escapes from small guillotines. In addition, dead rats and their droppings give off an odor, sort of a mixture of ammonia and rotting flesh.

The stench invaded my nostrils and then my throat. Yuck! Ugh! I raced upstairs and then out the door. I heaved. My stomach was in a violent twist. I ran behind the building and spit until I couldn’t anymore. I sprinted to my car and grabbed a bottle of water, and chugged it and then spit it out.

With the taste of dead rodent lingering in my mouth, I went back inside, wrote up the place, and spoke to the owner.

“I am recommending you close for fumigation.”

He answered, “Yes, I know there’s a problem. The exterminator comes every day.”

Finding evidence of rodents in a restaurant was not uncommon, but this level of infestation was shocking and rare. Offenders normally got a chance to swiftly eradicate vermin before any move was made to close their establishment. This place had clearly let things get out of control. Because the managers had not acted quickly and effectively after previous inspections, it ultimately had to close.

When I got back to the office, everyone wanted to know if I’d gotten another burger.

“Ha,” I said, “very funny!”

Reader Jackie Minghinelli lives in Halesite.

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