Behind the Scenes:

Gallatin County Restaurant Inspections

So you got to work this morning and heard some gossip in the office about the restaurant inspection reports that are now online. Then you turned on your computer, logged onto, and immediately checked the latest scores for your family’s favorite restaurants.

Yikes! They have all had one or maybe a couple violations on their last inspection report. “Well, that’s the last time I will ever eat there!” you say to yourself.

But what does that violation really mean? Is it really that bad? Here are a few things to consider:

• An inspection is what we like to call a “snapshot in time.” That means for the average facility they only receive two inspections per year. A particular inspection may have taken place on a good day or a terrible day for the facility. But, if the same sort of violations are written over and over again, that may be an indicator that the facility is struggling with meeting the requirements.

• The inspections conducted in Gallatin County are based on risk. What is risk? Risk-based inspections focus more on processes and procedures that can directly impact the safety of the food product. Examples include cooking temperatures, refrigerator temperatures, cross contamination between types of raw meats and vegetables, cooling processes, proper hand washing, good personal hygiene, and making sure food products are coming from approved sources. This is not an all-inclusive list; it’s really site dependent. Each restaurant has different recipes and types of food they prepare, and each comes with their own set of risks.

• It is a fact of life that some kitchens are not as clean as others. This may have to do with the number of hours open daily, the type of food served, the size and/or age of the kitchen, and the management, just to name a few. However, inspectors do look at the cleanliness of the physical facility and have the ability to write a violation for inadequate cleaning. Surprisingly, cleanliness of floors does not necessarily directly impact the safety of the food during preparation. The facility may be completing all of their processes correctly and safely while not spending enough time nightly to keep the facility in tip-top shape. This scenario might be likened to the mad dash of cleaning the house before your in-laws show up for the holidays. Generally inspectors will work with an operator in this circumstance to help them come into compliance. Often this results in a plan between the manager or owner to bring the facility up to a mutually agreeable standard during a period of time. This is different for each facility based on a number of factors.

• The meal I ordered came out cold/uncooked/moldy/with a hair in it. Is that a violation? The short answer is yes. We understand that everyone is human. Occasionally mistakes are made but when it comes to food safety this is much more important. If a plate comes out and is not made to your liking or not what you ordered, talk with the server or ask for a manager. Nine times out of 10 they will happily fix the issue and will be thankful that you pointed it out. Quite a few complaints that come into the office are completely unknown to the operator, and when confronted with the complaint, operators express frustration that they didn’t have a chance to fix it. That being said, if there is an issue that you think we should know about please call us because if you don’t, who will? And just because you make a complaint or are the operator of a facility that receives a complaint, does not mean that you instantly get a violation.

The moral of the story is this: just because your favorite restaurant received a single, or even a couple violations does not mean that it is or is not safe to eat there. In fact, reading those inspection reports should be just a part of making an informed decision about the safety of the food you choose to consume.

If you have any questions or complaints, contact the Gallatin City-County Health Department’s Environmental Health program at (406) 582-3120 or email

Check out the online restaurant inspection database here.