TAMPA, Florida — Florida has 48,000 restaurants and most get multiple health inspections every year. All those inspections are public record, available on-line for everyone to see. But few people know, Florida law also requires for restaurants to keep a copy on hand and "make it available upon request" to anyone who asks.
"It says 'upon request'… It's very clear," said public health policy expert Jay Wolfson from the University of Florida and Stetson Law.
"It's very clear. And that's a LAW! It's what they must do. It's an obligation."
But 10 Investigates is finding many restaurants disagree. We sent a team of producers posing as every day customers into restaurants across the Bay area. Many of the businesses refused to show their latest inspection.
In New Port Richey, the Panera Bread on Little Road said they couldn't show the report claiming the inspection paperwork contains "private information."
A manager inside the Sonny's on Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa told us his inspection report was "illegible" so there were no reason to bring it out since we couldn't read it. And at the Plant City Burger King off I-4 an employee said she didn't know where to find the report but said the restaurant got an "A" even though the state doesn't assign grades.
Out of the one hundred restaurants we checked only 27 showed their inspection reports. The remaining 73 percent of local restaurants were breaking the law by failing to show a copy of their latest inspection including the Pasco County Westshore Pizza that told our producer they had a copy, but "they don't have to show it."
The employee quickly changed his tune when 10 News walked in with a camera.
"I can give you the health report," said the employee. When asked why he didn't show it to our producer who was posing as a customer, the employee said he was unaware he had to. "In eight years I've never had someone ask for one. It's a very odd question I've never had to deal with."
But even with our camera recording, over the years we've found plenty of restaurants that flat out refuse to show their inspections.
When we asked to see a copy following the emergency closure of the Popeye's Chicken on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg, the fanchise owner said he had a copy, but "not that I intend to give you."
We got a similar response from the Steak N Shake on Park Street in St. Petersburg.
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And when we stopped by the Hardee's on 34th Street North in St. Petersburg, the manager told us, "I'm in the middle of a rush right now so I can't even be dealing with this."
Florida's Division of Hotels and Restaurants says even if a restaurant refuses the same information is available on-line or through the DBPR mobile app for smart phones.
But 10 Investigates found some restaurants information became hard to find when the restaurant name didn't exactly match what the state had on record or if the mailing address didn't match the city you search on-line.
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"It's a public health issue, it's a legal issue, it's a SAFETY issue," said Wolfson of the public's ability to access important health inspection information.
A spokesperson for the Division of Hotels and Restaurants says if an establishment won't show their inspection report you can file a complaint with their office and they'll send one of their inspectors out to investigate. But we've found they only check to see if the restaurant has their copy on site. They do not appear to be checking to see if the establishment will show their copy to the public.