INDIANAPOLIS - When is the last time you went out to eat and wondered if the kitchen where the food is being prepared is actually clean?
Most of us go out to eat without a second thought, whether it’s hitting the burger joint close to the office or a fancy steakhouse where slabs of meat are almost too big to fit on your plate.
However, it's all but impossible to find an Indianapolis restaurant that isn't guilty of some violation after getting an unannounced inspection from the Marion County Health Department.
In order to keep restaurants and food establishments safe for consumers, the health department conducts routine unannounced inspections, providing a thorough evaluation of the eatery from outside the building to inside the kitchen and dining areas.
In Marion County, violations are broken down into two categories, "critical" and "non-critical." Critical violations are those that can contribute to someone being exposed to a foodborne illness.
Examples of critical violations include food preparers not properly washing their hands, food being held at an improper temperature, cross-contamination, plumbing issues and rodent and pest infestations.
From small, locally owned spots to the big chain restaurants, RTV6's investigation found numerous recent violations.
Los Rancheros, in the 7100 block of Georgetown Road, had 17 "critical" violations in one inspection, including live roaches found in the kitchen.
When RTV6 visited Los Rancheros, the manager Sergio Soto said the restaurant isn't dirty.
"The violations are mostly because the building has been running for about 15 years or more, so it's deteriorated," Soto said. "We've gotten nobody sick in a very, very long time."
The Marion County Health Department shut down the kitchen at Pho 54, an eatery in the 7200 block of Michigan Road, after a February inspection found dead roaches and soiled water leaking from the roof onto a food preparation area.
"I believe we are (clean). You look," said Buubuu Ma, who works at Pho 54.
During a recent routine inspection at P.F. Chang's at Keystone at the Crossing, an inspector documented a dozen critical violations, including live roaches on cook line floors.
Jillian Hicks, a food education specialist at the Marion County Health Department, said one of the most common violations she finds during inspections is kitchen workers failing to wash their hands before handling food.
"Hand sinks have to be at about 100 degrees, so they can't just be washing their hands with cold water," Hicks said.
Restaurant inspection reports for Marion County can be accessed at http://hhcwebfood.mchd.com/ . The availability of reports from other counties in Indiana varies.
You can contact your county health department to find information specific to where you live.
Janelle Kaufman, who administers Marion County's Food and Consumer Safety Division, said the website allows searches by establishment name, street name and ZIP code.
"It's going to have the most current inspection report and also the history of inspections," said Kaufman.
If violations are serious enough, the health department can shut down the restaurant until the establishment corrects all the issues to the health department's satisfaction.
Unlike some states that use a grading scale to rate restaurants on their cleanliness , Indiana relies on county health departments to conduct the routine unannounced inspections and then recheck visits.
RTV6's investigation uncovered just a few restaurants that had no violations during their most recent inspections. One of those establishments was Five Guys Burgers and Fries on Commercial Drive in Fishers.
Chris Betts, who owns that franchise, said cleanliness is part of the daily culture there.
"It's like somebody coming to your house. You want to have your house clean when you have people over and the whole nine yards, and doing it on a daily basis makes it a whole lot easier than trying to do it once a month," Betts said.
Five Guys also has a secret shopper program and extra unannounced inspections from a third-party company.
"They audit us kind of like the health department does with Five Guys' standards once a quarter unannounced," Betts said. "We don't know when they're coming."