Most restaurants grade well

This West Ashley restaurant received an A rating, the highest DHEC gives out.

Fewer than 1 percent of the tri-county area's restaurants received bad restaurant grades in 2009, with Chinese and Mexican restaurants getting some of the worst scores, a Watchdog analysis found.

Eighty-four percent of the restaurants, roughly five out of every six, got A's. Meanwhile, 75 restaurants scored C's or worse, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control's data.

A restaurant with a C "typically exhibits poor to marginal levels of sanitation," DHEC said.

Of these 75 restaurants with low scores, 37 served mainly Chinese and Mexican food, though a few popular downtown eateries also garnered poor scores during routine unannounced inspections.

Restaurants that do poorly during routine inspections often boost their grades in follow-up inspections.

The DHEC's food cops are quick to say that inspections are just a snapshot of a restaurant's performance, and they say even the best restaurant can have a bad day.

Still, heightened awareness of good sanitation practices helped reduce outbreaks in recent years, but illnesses still sicken an estimated 76 million people every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Every year DHEC conducts more than 8,000 routine and follow-up inspections of restaurants, school cafeterias and grocery stores in Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties.

Reach Tony Bartelme at tbartelme@postandcourier.com or 937-5554.