CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Mecklenburg County has almost 4,000 restaurants that get regular inspections.
Most score in the 90s, which is an “A.” A score in the 80s may not seem low, but environmental safety supervisor Lynn Lathan said it's a concern.
“If we start getting down into that range, it means there are thing that they are not paying attention to, there may be repeat items,” Lathan said.
Lathan said in September 2012 North Carolina went to a new, stricter food code. Officials moved from a thin pamphlet to an inch-thick manual.
New rules, like banning anyone with bare hands from touching ready-to-eat food, are supposed to keep diners safer.
Most restaurants are still scoring well, but not all of them.
Anchor Scott Wickersham dug through thousands of reports dating to July through the first week of February, looking for low scores.
El Mariachi Restaurant on North Tryon Street scored Bs on its last two inspections.
In September, the inspector found molded bread, rotten produce and “meat stored in a turned off steam table overnight.”
“That would be food that would have to be discarded,” Lathan said. Diners who ate the food, “potentially, they would be subject to what was growing in there.”
Hong Kong BBQ Asia, also on North Tryon, scored Bs on its last two inspections. In both trips, the inspectors cited them for a garden growing behind the restaurant that was being used for herbs and leafy greens for the establishment. The report stated the “garden is not protected and feral cats are living around and in the garden.”
Wickersham found the garden, plants growing in boxes and Styrofoam. He did not see any cats, but the vegetables were surrounded by dumpsters, oil stains and trash.
Wickersham went to talk to the restaurant’s owner. Ken Joe said the garden is for the family, not for customers.
“We eat it, not for customer,” Joe said.
However, the inspector told Channel 9 that they admitted during an inspection that they had served some of it to customers.
Some restaurants scored a B only on their most recent inspection.
At Los Reyes, inspectors reported finding “live roaches and fruit flies.”
Fonda La Taquiza had “raw chicken and beef over ready to eat lettuce and cucumbers," according to a report.
Mandarin Restaurant scored an 89.
Tavern On The Tracks --86.
Casablanca Cafe -- 87.
Curry N Cake -- 89.5.
Karen's Deli scored 82.5 and the inspector noted "black debris in the soda dispenser".
At the Kabob House, the inspector saw "a large number of small flies around the onions” and insect "droppings on single service items"
Those are things people eat off of, like plates, knives or straws.
Even if customers have never eaten at any of these restaurants, Lathan said diners have probably gotten sick from eating out and just didn't know it.
“That was one of my favorite questions at food school. I would ask, ‘Who has had the 24-hour flu?’ Everyone would raise their hand. And I would say, ‘It was something you ate or drank,’” Lathan said.
While inspectors can't be everywhere, Lathan said diners can research a favorite restaurant online and always look for the health department score on the wall.
To see the full list of restaurant grades, click here.