You'll find most commercial kitchens as clean and organized as a military barracks. But there are always exceptions to the rule.
The dining public rarely sees what lurks behind that swinging door. New York City has implemented a unique rating system in which every restaurant -- large or small -- gets a letter grade posted in plain sight of the general public. There's even an iPhone app that allows you to search inspection results for any restaurant in New York City.
In Florida, though the information is public, one must do a little investigating to find a favorite restaurant's inspection records online.
According to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, every restaurant in the state is inspected annually on a random basis. But that's once a year. What happens the other 364 days? Yelp and other review sites help police restaurants. If a reviewer writes about a dirty bathroom or a cockroach, you can bet everyone in the local community will know about it.
Much rarer are employee whistleblowers such as Brandon Huber, who works at the Golden Corral in Port Orange, Florida.
On July 1, Huber posted a video, taken on what looks to be a cell phone, of meat and food being stored beside the restaurant's dumpster. Huber explains he's been working at Golden Corral for a long time and this is how his restaurant prepares for inspection (he does not explain whether it's a state inspection or a corporate inspection). Huber shows flies hovering around the burgers. All-you-can-eat ribs sit out in the sun by the dumpster. Gravy congeals in the heat. He notes that it's disgusting (and it is).
In Part 2, uploaded to YouTube July 7, Huber says that "as an employee, I would not eat this stuff... I don't want to cook this food," he states for the camera, speculating on what would happen if someone got sick or died.
According to Florida records, the location in question was last inspected January 7, 2013, in response to a complaint. The inspection revealed several small violations, but the restaurant passed muster. Its last full inspection was in October 2012.
Although the restaurant passed inspection, Huber's videos are compelling. They show what happens behind closed doors at a restaurant. More shocking, however, is the fact that employees are complicit in these acts. After all, trays of meat don't magically appear in the dumpster area -- they have to be carried out. In a flailing economy where people hold tight to any job they can find, it's easy to get workers to blindly do as told. This makes it especially striking when an employee has the guts to record a potential health threat.
Eric Holm, the franchisee who owns the restaurant in question and 27 other Golden Corral locations, issued a statement:
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"A video was recently posted showing an incident of improper food handling at our Port Orange, Florida location. None of these items were served to a single customer. All were destroyed within the hour at the direction of management. Brandon Huber, the employee who made the video, participated in the disposal of the food. The following day, the father of the employee posted an offer to sell the video for $5,000, which was not accepted."
Holm also noted that the restaurant manager was terminated "for failing to follow approved food-handling procedures" and that Huber is "on paid leave."