Kayla Holwick covered her face with her hands and gasped.
“Holy crap,” she said. “That’s really unsettling.”
Holwick just learned Transmetropolitan, a restaurant she frequents downtown, earned a failing health score of 69 in an inspection Sept. 21 before receiving a score of 89 on Oct. 1, according to the Northeast Health District.
“I’ve worked in the food industry, and in my opinion, getting anything less than an A is awful,” said Holwick, a junior economics major. “That’s extremely surprising, mainly because I assume if you have a clean outside that you have a clean inside.”
Transmet’s 69 was the lowest score among eateries in Athens-Clarke County.
At first, Transmetropolitan manager Max Talkovich told The Red & Black he didn’t “believe [they had] ever posted a 69.”
But after hearing that the score had been posted online by the Northeast Health District, Talkovich said the 69 came as a result of many “minor things that all added up.”
“There were a lot of little things, mostly storage issues,” he said.
The Red & Black was unable to reach the Northeast Health District concerning how inspectors score restaurants, but University Food Services training specialist Kris Ingmundson said inspectors use a form that specifies a certain number of points to be deducted for each violation.
“So they don’t get to choose [and say], ‘Oh, this isn’t that bad,’” she said. “If it’s a certain thing that’s wrong, it’s worth either four points, nine points, three or one.”
Talkovich said Transmet’s health score of 69 came mostly from the smaller deductions — deductions the Northeast Health District’s website calls “non-critical violations.”
“It had nothing to do with food temperature or the separation of the food or anything like that,” Talkovich said. “It was mostly really nitpicky health code things that even the health code inspector didn’t want to enforce because they were so trivial. It’s one of those things that you kind of had to do.”
Transmetropolitan received one “critical” deduction for having “bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods,” according to the website.
The restaurant also performed nine “non-critical violations” including failing to properly clean and sanitize “food-contact services” and failing to properly wash fruit and vegetables.
Transmet also received a deduction for failing to keep “insects, rodents and animals” out of the restaurant.
Restaurants receiving scores below 70 receive “a follow-up inspection within 10 days,” according to the health district.
Talkovich said Transmet bumped up its health score in the follow-up inspection by fixing the “nitpicky” errors the inspector had noticed the first time.
Freshman biological engineering major Levi Lewis has only eaten at Transmet once, but said he enjoyed the experience and was surprised to hear it had once received a failing health score.
He said he “probably” still plans on eating there.
“They have good pizza, and it’s cheap,” Lewis said. “I’ve never noticed anything dirty or anything in there.”
Holwick said she also might eat at Transmet again, but she would take a more cautious approach.
“I think if I eat at Transmet, I will definitely inquire as to what the score is,” she said.
Transmet was the only restaurant listed to receive a score below 70, but it was not the only restaurant in Athens to receive a follow-up visit, according to the health district.
Bulldawg Pizza on South Milledge received a health score of 71 on July 10 that it bumped up to an 86 by Aug. 7.
Manager Matthew Carow did not work at Bulldawg Pizza when it posted the score of 71 and said he has been actively working to fix the health code issues that affected their score.
These issues included keeping foods at “proper cold holding temperatures,” properly labeling food containers and keeping “toilet facilities ... properly constructed, supplied [and] cleaned.” Carow also said he has the proper food safety certificates and displays them where they were not before.
“I have a certificate as a Food Safety Manager,” he said. “You have to have that certificate displayed for that.”
Carow gained this certificate by completing the ServSafe course offered by the National Restaurant Association, which trains restaurant personnel to safely serve and prepare food, according to ServSafe.
Carow said his last four health inspections at his last job in Warner Robins posted scores of 100, and he feels confident he can perfect Bulldawg Pizza’s health score as well.
“Hey, watch me. Do a report on me after my next [health inspection] in a couple months. Watch me then,” Carow said. “I’d only been here like a week and a half to get it up [to the 86].”
Yoguri on College Avenue, Wendy’s on Barnett Shoals Road, Sr. Sol on West Broad, Comfort Inn on Atlanta Highway, Buddha Bar on East Broad Street and Lindsey’s Culinary Market on Prince Avenue all posted scores below 80.
Yoguri received an 88 in a follow-up Sept. 4.
But not all health scores in Athens make students cringe.
Out of approximately 518 listed vendors, Athens lists 279 scores of 90 and up. Ninety-nine food-serving vendors received a perfect score of 100.
All four University dining halls ranked among the 279 establishments to earn A's on their health inspections.
“I think that we achieve [high health scores] through ongoing training and reinforcement in our units,” said Bryan Varin, associate director of meal plan operations . “It’s just a focal point for us, and it’s very important to us that we’re serving safe food and doing the right thing. I think that parlays into the high scores that we typically get.”
Ogelthorpe and Snelling Dining Commons both received scores of 100 in their last health inspections Aug. 28 and May 8 respectively, according to the health district.
Bolton and Joe Frank Harris Dining Commons received scores of 91. Bolton was last inspected June 28, while Joe Frank Harris underwent inspection Oct.1.
All full-time dining hall employees attend an employee-level ServSafe class on campus and all managers attend a management level ServSafe class.
“That’s over and above what our local health department and the state require us to do,” Varin said. “Every member of our management team in the entire department is ServSafe-certified, and all of our full-time employees have gone through a food safety course as well.”
Most student workers do not complete the course, but they “receive basic food safety training,” Ingmundson said.
“Our culinary team and our student management team have to take the same course that the full-time employees take,” she said. “And we do have other students who have chosen to take that course as well.”
Junior English major Emma LeCroy worked in Snelling Hall her freshman year and said she always noticed a major emphasis placed on proper food handling techniques.
“When I worked there, they would get on us all the time. They’d be like, ‘Oh look, you left some crumbs here. Clean that up,’” LeCroy said. “I guess they’re pretty adamant about that. I feel like it was always a big point, even if everything is really busy, to make sure your area is clean.”
Food Services posts all four dining hall health scores on its website.
Varin said he encourages students to pay attention to these scores and those of all their favorite restaurants in Athens — restaurants like Transmetropolitan and Bulldawg Pizza.
“I think I would always invite students to be aware of where they’re eating,” Varin said. “Look around, and look at those health scores on the walls where they are. Just be aware.”
The 40 Watt Club, Moe’s Southwest Grill on Baxter Street, Omega Bar and Thai Spoon all received perfect health scores in their last inspections.
The Globe, Five & Ten and The International all posted scores of 90 and above.
All health scores are available on Northeast Health District’s restaurant scores webpage.