Serious Eats

Golden Corral Video Exposes Unsanitary Food Storage Conditions

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[Photograph via Imgur]

I woke up this morning to see a video on the top of my Reddit feed shot by a uniform-wearing, whistle-blowing employee at a Florida location of the Golden Corral restaurant. The video shows trays of raw hamburger patties, raw baby back ribs, and pans filled with cooked pot roast, gravy, chicken, bacon, and green bean casserole, all stored outdoors, directly next to the dumpsters. His explanation? That's what the restaurant does "during inspection."

The post was quickly followed up by a different Reddit user who posted a series of photos that depicted what he claimed were "average day" scenes of disarray and uncleanliness at her own Golden Corral location.

Take a quick look at the video below:

Pretty unsavory, and it may leave you asking, "why would a restaurant do this on inspection day?"

I don't know the real answer (nor can I confirm if this video is indeed an accurate or fair portrayal of the Golden Corral location in question), but I can offer some pretty educated guesses.

As we reported a few of weeks ago, there are a few inherent inefficiencies in the relationship between restaurants, customers, and health inspectors that stems largely from the lack of correspondence between specifics of DOH's food safety rules and actual food safety. As Lauren Rothman reported, "there's a fundamental divide between what it takes for a restaurant to follow every DOH rule to the letter", and "what it takes for a restaurant to serve hot, tasty food to a dining room full of hungry customers in a timely manner."

How could this lead to something like what you might see in this video? Imagine this scenario: you're managing the floor at a Golden Corral restaurant on a hot Florida day. You have a few more customers in the restaurant than you were expecting. The walk-in refrigerator is struggling just to keep cool, while all of the extra orders means you've been forced to open and close the door more often than you should. As a result, some of the food you've been storing in there is not quite as cold as a health inspector would require it to be.

Lo and behold, you get a call from the health inspector saying he will be arriving on premises in half an hour. You know that if this warm food is discovered, you will be forced to throw it out, or worse, your restaurant may even be closed down if you have a couple of other minor violations to your name. You now have two options: A) throw out the food so that your restaurant passes the inspection; or B) hide the evidence in a location the health inspector may not check, then bring it back after he leaves and continue serving.

Option A will lead to severe reprimands from the corporate office, who keeps all of their locations on a very strict, bottom line-focussed mission. Eat those food costs, and they may well end up eating out of your own bonus, or might even put you out of the job. It's easy to see how under such pressure, option B might seem like the only choice, despicable as it may appear.

Of course, this is only one of many possible scenarios, but I can tell you from experience that every single restaurant I've ever spent time in had some (much milder) version of this scenario, whether it was "inspector's coming, time to put on hair nets," or "better hide that sous-vide machine in the wine room!" or "make sure all that charcuterie is hidden, stat." You get the idea.

Sometimes, these kinds of things seem almost like a game—it's understood by both the inspectors and chefs that the rules set up for inspection miss many of the subtleties of food preparation—salting, drying, or smoking for instance—that would make even totally safe and edible food fail inspection on technical grounds. On the other hand, sometimes you see egregious safety violations like the ones that occurred in this video.

A Golden Corral rep has since responded to the video with the following statement:

A video was recently posted showing an incident of improper food handling at our Port Orange, Fla., 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.

The manager involved in the improper storage was terminated for failing to follow approved food handling procedures.

We've yet to see anything by way of explanation of how it occurred, or how such incidents will be stemmed in the future.

Restaurant workers of Serious Eats: Do you have any personal stories or insights into the complexities of health code and food safety? Do you see a problem between what health inspectors want, what location managers can provide, and what corporate oversight demands?

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About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.

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