The health department has a limited number of inspectors and thousands of eating establishments to worry about.
In an earlier era, my dietitian mother was responsible for the cleanliness of a hospital kitchen. There were health department inspections in those days, too, and the standards were just as hard to meet as they are today.
She would bemoan the fact that one employee making a simple mistake — like washing his or her hands in the wrong sink — could result in a black mark.
The Daily Mail started publishing inspection scores in the 1970s. Apparently it caused quite a stir. To demonstrate how hard it was to keep a kitchen clean, the editors had one of the inspectors visit a reporter's home.
As the story goes, the score was low and his wife, who hadn't been warned, was furious.
In the current dust-up, some interesting trends are in play. People are eating out quite frequently. Witness the profusion of new restaurants in town.
Society also is becoming hyper-aware of cleanliness. Reports of food-borne illnesses are in the news regularly.
We're cautioned not only to wash the produce and cook the meat thoroughly, but also to stay home if we're sick and to wash our hands, over and over.
I'm nagged by the giant bottle of hand sanitizer near the newsroom door as I pass by several times a day.
I want to dismiss all this as over-reaction in the viral information age, but I can't quite.
During a recent bout with a cold bug, I found myself using paper towels to grab doorknobs. I had never done that before.
So here we are, sanitized people expecting squeaky clean restaurants.
But I doubt very many of us want to pay higher taxes to support more inspectors.
How should this shake out?
Perhaps we'll end up with the Lake Woebegone effect, with all the restaurants above average.
If that occurs, let's hope it will be due to more restaurants meeting the standards, not a more lenient inspection process.
I think I'll continue to check the bathrooms.
Friend is editor and publisher of the Daily Mail. She may be reached at 348-5124 or nan...@dailymail.com.