When you walk into a restaurant, do you look at the health score? Sometimes I read the score before I even choose the restaurant. As a sensitive-stomached soul, I'l take any chance to avoid food poisoning.

Of course, just like a low GPA doesn't make you jobless, a bad health grade doesn't guarantee you a trip to the hospital. Still, it doesn't hurt to check it out.

Health scores are usually displayed in a visible place, like (& often near) the restaurant's food service permit. In my experience, it's usually near the front door. If you don't see it, ask an employee, because they're required to show you (yes, I've done this before).

The sheet will look something like this:

pizza, coffee, beer
Savannah Tully

Not too shabby. Now that you know the basics, let's talk about how to pick your restaurant.

Health scores are regulated and posted by each county's department of health.

Stoplight shots

stabz98 on Flickr

Simply search the restaurant's county plus "restaurant health inspections" (or your preferred version of the term) to find a list of ratings.

Just like those stoplight shots, health scores come in three colors. Some counties color code the grades to help you out. This comes in handy, since not all grades are created equal.

Critical Violations

Now picture this: Two restaurants each have a 91, but one is green while the other is red. The difference? A critical violation.

Critical violations include (but are not limited to) improper cold holding temperatures, bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods and inadequate hand washing facilities. Yuck.

Second Chances

Always look at the health inspection date, because there's this thing called a follow-up. If your favorite eatery receives a shameful grade, they'll have a chance to get things spick and span before their re-test. But even if the worst case scenario happens and they close, you can still consult our database to find a new home.

When you think about the fast pace of a restaurant kitchen, it's a miracle we don't get sick more often. Maybe I'm a pessimist (I am), but I'd rather attempt adulthood and cook dinner at home than risk a sandwich from a red 71.