For the past few months I've been teaching myself to write spiders - little Perl programs that crunch through URLs and download data. In the spirit of learning by doing, my first project was to grab 5,000 health inspection reports for Manhattan restaurants from the NYC Department of Health website. The reports list a lot of yucky things, from spoiled food to rat droppings, that you'd rather not know. I'll tell you one thing, though - after going through this exercise, I'll never buy the cheap sushi at Daikichi again.
Here's a narrow slice of what I found: the average number of violations per restaurant for Manhattan chains with five or more locations. Most of the violations aren't too bad. But unless you like raw sewage, stay away from the Popeyes on Fulton Street.
Over 2 Violations per Location CafÃ© Metro Rayâ€™s Pizza Sbarroâ€™s
1.5 to 2 Violations per Location Andrews Coffee Shop Blimpie Burger Heaven City Market CafÃ© Cosi Daikichi Sushi Europa Cafe Kennedy Fried Chicken Le Pain Quotidien Pronto Pizza Ranch 1 Teriyaki Boy TGI Fridayâ€™s Zaroâ€™s Bread Basket
1 to 1.5 Violations per Location Au Bon Pain Baluchi's Barnes & Noble Cafe Burritoville Chipotle Mexican Grill City Perk Cremalita Crown Fried Chicken Domino's Pizza Jackson Hole Popeye's Subway Tasti D-Lite Zaro's Bread Basket
0.5 to 1 Violations per Location Burger King Dean & Deluca Dunkin Donuts Haagen Dazs Hale & Hearty Soups KFC Krispy Kreme McDonald's Pret a Manger Starbucks Wendy's
Less Than 0.5 Violations per Location Ben & Jerryâ€™s
A few observations:
It's easy to despise the big fast food chains, but when it comes to cleanliness, they seem to have their act together. Just compare Burger King to Burger Heaven or KFC to Kennedy Fried Chicken. (Subway doesn't count - it's a network of franchisees rather than a centrally managed operation like McDonalds.)
Pizza - or any restaurant where food is left out for long periods - is a bad bet.
Violations aren't likely at chains where the food arrives in sealed containers and doesn't need to be prepared before serving. The prime examples are ice cream shops like Haagen Dazs and Ben & Jerry's. Coffee and baked goods (Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, Dean & Deluca's) seem to be relatively safe as well.