The FDA’s standards aren’t mandatory
Nationwide standards for food safety are established by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, whose guidelines state that the “principal goal to be achieved by [restaurant] inspection is to prevent foodborne disease.” Although restaurants in all 50 states are subject to inspection by local, county or state health department personnel, the locals are not necessarily following or guided by FDA standards. The feds standards are not mandatory, and local jurisdictions have broad discretion with regard to how to address restaurant safety.
The good news: some safety standards are just obvious
Regardless of the specific safety standards, any particular jurisdiction has adopted, there’s simply no wiggle room that should allow black mold to be visible on an ice machine, cleaning products to be stored on the same shelf as food or mouse droppings to be seen in an omelet pan. Yet it happens. Moreover, obvious violations will often point toward a whole host of underlying ones, perhaps not as blatantly disturbing, but disgusting nonetheless. For example, when a man who found a finger on his plate alongside his hamburger at an Indiana restaurant, he had, in fact, unwittingly uncovered another less-obvious violation: since the finger was not gloved, there could be no doubt that someone in the kitchen hadn’t been wearing his gloves while preparing food.
On the other hand, the wearing of gloves in the kitchen should not be seen as a safety panacea either. One of the dirty little secrets, restaurant staffers may not tell you is that they sometimes touch their gloved hands to food after they’ve touched any number of things you’d never want them to have touched: the cash register, for example, or a piece of raw chicken. These are other dirty restaurant secrets the kitchen crew won’t tell you.