COLUMBIA, S.C. — Due to the pandemic, South Carolina's health agency (DHEC) was conducting restaurant safety and health inspections virtually, but now they’re back to in-person visits.
Restaurants like the Hampton Street Vineyard in Columbia strive to get high ratings on the inspections so guests and staff feel safe.
The downtown Columbia spot recently received an A at 95% in their latest inspection this past September.
"It is our upmost importance that our food is safe to eat, and our guests are comfortable eating here,” said managing partner Chelsea Carrier.
DHEC reports every food establishment's grade and inspection results online. When researching other Columbia restaurants, DHEC’s website shows many haven’t had a food safety inspection posted since 2019.
While others haven't had a food safety check in years, Hampton Street Vineyard had a virtual inspection in 2020 and an in-person inspection a couple months ago.
Carrier said maintaining high standards isn’t an easy task.
"It can always be challenging," she said. "There were points where we were short on labor," so she said they had to pick up the slack to ensure cleanliness.
DHEC told News19 when state employees were required to return to the office this past spring by Governor's order, they resumed in-person inspections at restaurants across the state.
“We make sure we are handling food correctly from temperatures, to our fruit being covered at the bar, to daily and weekly cleaning schedules, and deep cleans, to how we prep our food in the morning,” explained Carrier.
When checking back of house, DHEC said inspectors look for “proper cooking temperatures, proper holding temperatures and food source information.”
They also look for sanitary conditions like clean ice and proper hand hygiene. While DHEC’s inspections focus on food safety, many restaurants follow COVID-19 recommendations too.
Carrier said, "we use a special sanitizer for the tables, we like to separate the tables and space them out.”
To look up a South Carolina restaurant's grading, go to DHEC's SC Food Grades. The website allows users to search by city, county and name of establishment.