Six of the 31 food-serving places that have been shut down by the Kern County Public Health Services Department since the beginning of the year are in the greater Tehachapi area.

Most have reopened after earning an A or B grade upon making fixes required by public health officials.

"The Food Facility Grading Policy has been in place since 2007. Food facility operators are fully aware of these standards," said Michelle Corson, public relations officer for Kern County Public Health Services. "Unfortunately several operators in the Tehachapi area have recently not met these standards.

"When we conduct an inspection, we view every facility as an individual business and none of the recent Tehachapi closures have a connection to one another."

Inspections performed in the last year show top violations in Tehachapi eateries include placing raw meats above cooked food, refrigerator food being stored above 41 degrees Fahrenheit, rodent infestations and lack of soap and paper towels in kitchens and restrooms, Corson said.

“The way food is prepared and served to us is very important, because our health can be impacted dramatically," Corson said.

Consumers can download the SafeDiner app on their smartphone and see the three most recent inspection reports, grade and violations, and use the app to submit a complaint for restaurants, illegal vendors and markets, Corson said.

For example, there are more than 15 fast food restaurants in Tehachapi, with fast food defined as those places where food is prepared, and served quickly, and include a drive-thru window.

More than 65 percent of all fast food establishments have kept themselves within the top rating of 90-100 percent in compliance with health department standards over the past year, according to numbers from the Kern County Public Health Services SafeDiner.

The inspections look at a variety of factors. In fact, public health has a 68-page Food Facility Grading Policy on its website detailing the work that is done with the purpose of trying to protect health.

“Some illnesses have symptoms that start within hours of exposure. Others can take weeks to months after exposure to show symptoms,” said Kim Hernandez, public health epidemiologist from the Kern County Public Health Services.

She added, “Some foodborne germs can survive on surfaces and be passed through contact rather than food items. You still have to swallow the germs, but that might happen when you touch a contaminated surface and then touch your month.”

Corson added that many foodborne illnesses can be prevented by simply washing your hands before a meal or after using the restroom, keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold, cleaning counters with hot water and soap, and cooking foods to the proper temperature.

"The goal is that our health inspectors educate restaurant staff every time they perform a routine inspection, because we want them to be successful," added Corson.

The frequency of inspections conducted by Public Health depends on the type of food that is prepared, being cooked or packaged; number of people visiting a business; and the type of business, such as a hospital or a place that serves the general population.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year 48 million people get sick from a foodborne illness, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die.

Hernandez added, “There are more than 250 foodborne diseases that have been identified. Most of them are caused by bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Toxins and chemicals can also contaminate food and cause food borne illness.”

What have some restaurant chains done to keep the public health safe?

At the Subway on Tucker Road, which has consistently maintained an A Grade, health inspectors come from the cooperate office once a month, in addition to those from the Kern County health department, to make sure cleanliness and safety standards are followed.

“One major suggestion that we would like to share would be to make sure all employees are properly trained throughout all areas of food safety and overall cleanliness,” said Blaine Ferguson, manager of the Subway at Tucker Road.