New Jersey’s Health Commissioner is out with advice for fans attending Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday. And, while some food safety tips were included, Commissioner Mary E. O’Dowd was silent about finding restaurants with good inspection records.
Her spokeswoman, Donna Leusner, told Food Safety News that’s because restaurant inspections in New Jersey are strictly a local matter. For the most part, you are not going to find inspection reports online nor will you see letter grades posted at the restaurant door as you do in nearby New York City.
So Seahawks and Broncos fans, you are on your own.
New Jersey’s Health Commissioner is warning you to dress in layers, wear a winter coat, and wash your hands often. Oh, and before arriving in New Jersey, get your shots – a flu shot, that is.
When it comes to picking restaurants in the confusing geography of northern New Jersey, nothing is going to be easy. The first-ever outdoor, cold-weather Super Bowl is being played in the MetLife Stadium at the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, N.J.
As for food and beverage establishments in the area, here’s the good news: The health department for the Borough of East Rutherford has an active inspection program for approximately 130 restaurants in its jurisdiction. Under the New Jersey code for “Sanitation in Retail Food Establishments and Beverage Vending Machines,” there are four possible outcomes for an inspection. They are:
- Conditionally Satisfactory
- Conditionally Satisfactory on Re-inspection
One or more violations involving food safety or sanitation issues can result in a Conditionally Satisfactory outcome. Unsatisfactory is for gross violations that typically result in closure of the establishment.
Here’s the bad news: It is unlikely that Seahawks or Broncos fans will be able to find even the overall evaluation from the last inspection in time to make a food safety decision about a restaurant. As for the actual report, well, as they say in New Jersey, “You can fuggedaboudit.”
Boroughs are not even required to issue written reports, let alone make any report available to the public beyond the “outcome” label. And, every time you move in northern New Jersey, you’re likely to be in a new borough. Except for a few scattered reports that local newspapers collect, you’re not going to find much.
East Rutherford does spend about 1.5 percent of its annual budget on public health. According to its most recent annual report, 130 food safety inspections were conducted under the state code, and the health department sampled 60 potentially hazardous foods.
The borough does participate in the “Bergen County Gold Star Program Award for Excellence in Food Protection.” Its purpose is to recognize establishments that exceed food safety and sanitation minimums.
The most recent “Gold Star” winners for East Rutherford were: Ice Cream Charlie’s, Dairy Queen, 55 Kip Center, Dunkin Donuts, Café Mattise, Meadows School, New China Inn, Sweet Avenue Bake Shop, Hop Hing, Bagel Supreme, Rutherford Pancake House, Greek Town Gyros and Wendy’s.
As for MetLife Stadium, the food vendors there were not shown with any violations in ESPN’s last comparison of inspection reports for the nation’s 107 professional stadiums and arenas. But that was mostly because it was too new, having just opened in 2010.
Since it opened, the Super Bowl site’s food court has gained attention for featuring New Jersey and New York “street foods.” The stadium’s food service is provided by Delaware North Companies and, for what it’s worth, they just obtained a “Certified Green Restaurant” designation from the Green Restaurant Association. The award was earned by converting all kitchen waste oil to biodiesel, composting kitchen scraps, donating all leftover food, and recycling cardboard, plastic, glass and other materials.
The Super Bowl will be played in the 82,500-seat stadium on Sunday.
UPDATE: Food Safety News has learned New Jersey does have a system for “conspicuous” placement of color-coded placards for a restaurant’s most recent inspection. Here is the code: White is for Satisfactory and yellow/orange is for Conditional Satisfactory. The color-coded placard should be near the public entrance. “My advice for hungry Seahawks and Broncos fans would be to look for the posting, and if it is not Satisfactory (White), consider dining elsewhere,” says a local environmental health specialist. Also, you can ask the restaurant manger for a copy of the inspection report.© Food Safety News