What do Metro Health inspectors look for when inspecting a restaurant?

Letter scores should not be taken at face value, Metro Health says

SAN ANTONIOBehind the Kitchen Door is a series where KSAT investigates health inspections of local restaurants.

Those inspection reports should be one of the first things you see when you walk into one of San Antonio’s 8,000 restaurants.

As one of Metro Health’s 36 inspectors, William Emminger has written up thousands over the years and has seen it all.

“What’s the grossest thing that you’ve seen in a restaurant?” asked KSAT reporter Daniela Ibarra.

“Well, I don’t think I can say that on TV,” Emminger said, laughing.

His job is to ensure restaurants comply with health codes and prevent you from getting sick.

Emminger says the most common foodborne illnesses are norovirus, salmonella poisoning and E. coli.

Most common violations

Emminger says the violations restaurants often make can lead to bacterial growth.

  • Employees not washing their hands
  • Food temperature violations
    • Hot foods need to be kept above a certain temperature, and cold foods need to be kept below a certain temperature.

“If they’re keeping them in the danger zone, which is 41 to 135 degrees, then that’s going to increase how quickly the bacteria can grow on that food surface,” he said.

How inspectors score restaurants

The inspection reports are a snapshot of how a restaurant is handling food.

“We don’t let them know we’re coming,” he explained. “We just show up and come in.”

The inspection is divided into three categories tied to points: priority items, priority foundation items and core items.

Priority items are considered the most critical, with three points knocked off for each violation.

“These violations in this first part are mostly like temperature control, not having sick employees, working with the food, proper handwashing, proper glove use,” Emminger said. “Using clean water whenever you’re preparing food items.

You can listen to William Emminger’s full interview in the video player below:

Priority foundation items are two points and include food handling certificates, equipment cleanliness and food temperature.

Core violations are one point a piece and considered non-critical.

Emminger says restaurants are also issued placards with a letter grade of A, B or C.

He says those shouldn’t be taken at face value.

“You can have a lot of very minor violations that get you a B placard, so it’s probably perfectly safe to eat there,” said Emminger. “But you can also have a few critical violations that might greatly increase (the) risk of illness and still be able to get an A placard. So I always say use the placards as a rule of thumb.

While restaurants can’t “fail” their inspections, Emminger says those who score below 65 are considered to have “gross and unsanitary conditions” and can be shut down until critical issues are fixed.

Where do roaches and rodents rank?

Emminger says it depends.

If roaches or rodents are present — it’s considered a core violation.

“If we’re finding fecal matter or roaches in the food items, then that escalates it up to one of the three-point criticals,” said Emminger. “That’s the point when we started seeing contamination of the food items or like rodent droppings on cans of food, where we’re looking at the potential meaning to close a restaurant.”

How to make a report

If you’re ever at a restaurant and see something questionable, you can make a report by calling 311 or submitting one to sanantonio.gov.

Your information is kept confidential.

You can catch Daniela’s BKD reports Thursdays on the Nightbeat.


Watch other Behind the Kitchen Door stories here

. (KSAT)

About the Authors

Daniela Ibarra joined the KSAT News team in July 2023. This isn’t her first time in the KSAT newsroom– the San Antonio native spent the summer of 2017 as an intern. Daniela is a proud Mean Green alum, earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of North Texas.

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