BOSTON (CBS) – If almost every Boston restaurant gets an "A" grade, even those with flagrant health code records, how do customers know which are the safest places to eat?
"I was in Chinatown, and every place I went into had an A," said Bob Dirice, a frequent Boston diner. "We went in one place to get lunch and there was a cockroach walking across the counter."
The WBZ-TV I-Team found health code violations where city inspectors temporarily suspended restaurant licenses this summer. In some cases, even while they were shut down, the A grades remained on the wall and online. In Downtown Crossing, a restaurant inspection report shows it had "cockroaches on the walls, on top of the mops, on the floor, in the sauces that are stored uncovered."
"We know cockroaches are going to breed bad things that are going to go into food," said Boston University food safety expert Joan Salge Blake.
"We do inspections one, two, three times a year unannounced," Boston's Assistant Director of Inspectional Services Health Division, John Meany, explained.
But when it comes to the report card, it's not hard to get on the top of Boston's honor roll. Of 2,321 restaurants in the city, more than 99 percent boast A's. The B's and C's together make up less than one percent.
"We're telling you what to do," said Meany, explaining what inspectors tell restaurant managers when they discover violations. "We're writing out, and we're giving you a copy of it. We're telling you we're coming back."
Another restaurant on the "A" list in Roxbury was allowed to reopen after inspectors shut it down when they found "raw chicken stored over steak, produce."
According to Salge Blake, cross-contamination is a serious problem.
"In fluids of that raw chicken, could be bacteria, can make you sick," Blake said.
An "A" restaurant in Brighton was cited for "operating without water at all." The inspection report went on to say, "unclear how the food items are washed," and "employees unable to wash their hands."
That restaurant, and others the city shut down, reopened after passing follow-up inspections. They all still get straight "A"'s.
"I don't see how," said restaurant customer Jessica Paulino. "How is that possible if they have all those violations?"
Meany answered that question.
"Once they're fixed they're back on A status," he said.
When the I-Team checked the records, some restaurants showed patterns of repeatedly cleaning up their act after failing inspections.
"I think we need to make sure it's very very meaningful," said Salge Blake, "and that the A is there, and that the A has been historically there, and they have very few violations."
The City of Boston has posted all past violations online. Customers can find the real story behind any of those "A" restaurants on what's called the Mayor's Food Court.
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