My Two Cents is a weekly opinion column from Bethesda resident Joseph Hawkins. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of BethesdaNow.com.
Eating out in Bethesda is big fun. But eating out safely is just as important as the fun part. Why? Because according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every year 1 in 6 Americans I thought the Washington Post Magazine piece about a Bethesda family eating at every downtown Bethesda restaurant was super cute, though I wished the family had documented the total dollar damage. Seriously, how much does such an adventure really run a family of four?
The quest seemed like a reasonable one to me. The actual list of downtown restaurants — the one provided by the Bethesda Partnership — is really somewhat manageable, especially if one eats out regularly.
But then the Gips family’s food adventure — the people who performed the restaurant challenge — got me thinking. Of the approximately 200 eligible restaurants how many had a Montgomery County health code violation last year, the year of the challenge?
I’m just a little crazed about food safety. And I’m sure it’s caused by having worked as a CDC contractor since 2000. Let’s face it. If you’re eating your way through Bethesda, why not at least make sure you’re eating safe, right?

Determining what’s safe has never been easier. I’ve written about how easy it is to access restaurant food inspection results, and more and more, I find myself going to the Montgomery County open data site and doing a quick check to make sure where I eat in Bethesda, or elsewhere in the county is safe
So, I did a little checking and I’m not sure I’d want to eat at every Bethesda restaurant.
Of downtown’s roughly 200 restaurants, more than half (or 108) had some kind of 2014 health code violation. The most common violation was a failure to hold cold food temperatures. Nearly half of all cited Bethesda restaurant violations were this failure, which to be fair, can be cleared up relatively quickly.
The second most common violation was a failure to hold hot food temperatures. Slightly more than 20 percent of the violations fell in this category. Health inspectors are checking these two issues to make sure consumers are not eating bad bacteria associated with food poisoning (salmonella comes to mind).
The third most common violation was a failure to control rodents and insects. This violation made up 10 percent of the violations in Bethesda last year. Of the 200 outlets, 25 failed inspection because of “rodents and insects.”
And a few of the 25 were closed (not to reopen until after a reinspection) because of it, including Breads Unlimited, Sweetgreen, and Tara Thai (which was recently reported to be closing at the end of March).
The Gips piece ends with the family members listing their personal favorites. Those 24 restaurants appear below. As one can quickly see, 12 of the 24 had a violation in 2014. A few had multiple violations. Yikes!
Selected restaurant food violations in Bethesda in 2014
A restaurant with a food violation is obviously not guaranteed to cause problems, but it’s important for consumers to know as much as possible about the food they consume, as well as how it is prepared and under what conditions.
Figuring out which Bethesda restaurants are safe, and will not make us ill, is easier than ever.
But from now on, I’m telling my server to hold the coleslaw.
Joseph Hawkins is a longtime Bethesda resident who remembers when there was no Capital Crescent Trail. He works full-time for an employee-owned social science research firm located Montgomery County. He is a D.C. native and for nearly 10 years, he wrote a regular column for the Montgomery Journal. He also has essays and editorials published in Education Week, the Washington Post, and Teaching Tolerance Magazine. He is a serious live music fan and is committed to checking out some live act at least once a month.