If you can get a hold of one of the hand-written scoring sheets used in South Dakota restaurant inspections, it provides a surprising amount of detail about what's going on behind the scenes at your favorite eatery.
Here's what to look for.
Total score. Scores can range from a low of 0 to a high of 100, and points are docked for each violation. A minimum of 80 is required to "pass" the inspection. Two Rapid City restaurants, the Rodeway Inn and the Imperial Chinese Restaurant, scored lower than an 80 on their most recent inspection as of Oct. 26.
Critical violations. Of 44 total categories, 16 are considered "critical," and violations in those areas carry more weight - 64 total points - and can trigger immediate legal action by the state, said Clark Hepper with the South Dakota Department of Health.
"Those violations have a larger impact on the public health," Hepper said.
Critical areas include food contamination, food temperature, safe water, hand washing and insect control. A restaurant could have very few critical issues, or many minor problems, and be assigned the same final score.
For example, Rodeway had a higher score, 79, than the Imperial, 76, but it had more violations, with 13 compared to nine.
Hepper said items 6, 8 and 15 are the "big three" critical violations that draw the most attention from inspectors and are consistently penalized at restaurants. Those subcategories are bare hand contamination by employees, cross contamination of separate foods and hot and cold holding of food.
"It has a lot to do with how the facility handles their employee training. Bare hand contact is something you have to constantly think about and be educated about," Hepper said. "Cross contamination is more of an educational problem, and hot and cold is an operational thing they're not paying attention to as far as using proper procedures."
Violations identified. This is where you'll find the gritty details of what went wrong. For example, in the report from the Aug. 24 inspection of Imperial Chinese Restaurant, the inspector wrote that he marked the restaurant down for the critical violation of "cold holding temperatures" because boxes of raw chicken and crab were out on the counter and measured 60 degrees; they are supposed to be stored at colder than 41 degrees. He also found two live cockroaches, one near the prep line and the other beneath the dishwasher.
At Rodeway, the two critical violations were: not labeling chemical spray bottles, and storing raw meat next to cooked meat. Every critical item is flagged by inspectors and requires immediate action. Inspectors can indicate on the detail page of the sheet a deadline for when the correction must be completed.
The Rodeway report indicates that the two critical violations were immediately fixed. Three of the four critical violations at Imperial were immediately fixed, with the insects needing exterminated "ASAP," the inspector wrote.
The restaurant's manager said that problem has since been resolved.
After completing each report, inspectors meet immediately on site with managers to explain violations and suggest remedies, Hepper said.