Business

Food safety: Dozens of Ada County eateries have repeated health code violations

To regain its license from the health department, the Blue Moose Cafe in Eagle spent $1,500 to install a sink.
To regain its license from the health department, the Blue Moose Cafe in Eagle spent $1,500 to install a sink. kgreen@idahostatesman.com

Noe Claudio and his wife opened Bang on the Wall Burgers, a food truck, a few years ago. It began as a part-time summer venture, but now the food truck is their full-time job — selling food at up to three events a week — and they also have a new taco cart, Buen Provecho, that opened in Caldwell.

Like other Ada County restaurants, the food truck has several health code violations in its history. Public health department employees found 23 critical violations at Bang on the Wall Burgers in 14 inspections since 2012.

“They inspect at every event” the food truck caters, Claudio said. When inspectors find something wrong, “they want to see us correct that problem. So they set up more inspections. They come out again and see if the violation has been fixed (and) what you’ve done to correct the violation. ... We built a plan with our inspector directly to make sure our past violations don’t happen again.”

Food trucks, like other licensed eateries, are subject to inspection by the Central District Health Department, which covers Ada, Boise, Elmore and Valley counties.

Central District health inspectors found at least one critical violation during 683 inspections in the year ending Aug. 7, according to inspection data requested by the Idaho Statesman. Twenty-nine of those eateries had repeat violations. In a handful of cases, inspectors found 10 or more health violations in a single visit, such as employees disobeying rules on cleanliness and foods being improperly refrigerated.

Critical violations are the “major risk factors” most likely to contribute to food-borne illness, according to the health department. (For example, using a cutting board to dice fresh vegetables after it was used to chop chicken.)

Other violations are less likely to be responsible for illness but can include problems such as insects in the restaurant. When critical violations are found during an inspection, they must be corrected immediately or there will be a follow-up inspection, according to the health department.

The Boise Co-op’s deli, whose food sickened hundreds of customers in Idaho’s worst salmonella outbreak last summer, was among the repeat offenders.

The deli was flagged with two more critical violations Oct. 21.

“They came in that morning, spent about three hours or so here,” said Matt Fuxan, manager for the North End store of the Boise Co-op, which recently opened a second store in Meridian. “Basically, from the time they were here until they left, they hadn’t found anything until they entered our pizza area.”

Inspectors found the deli was keeping its pizza at the wrong temperature, Fuxan said. He contested the violation, saying customers buy pizzas long before their storage temperature could become dangerous. But the deli lacked documentation to prove its point.

A follow-up inspection Oct. 28 found no violations.

Fuxan and other food-service managers and owners say health inspectors are helpful, and they don’t argue with the notion that food safety is important.

But some business owners said health inspections across the Treasure Valley aren’t always consistent. The data suggest that could be true — or that restaurants themselves are inconsistent — because many of the most frequent violators in Ada County are in Eagle, which has a fraction of the number of restaurants that Boise has.

Inspectors wrote up two Eagle businesses — The Blue Moose Cafe and Doug’s Burger Den — for six critical violations in their mid-July inspections.

Doug Corta, who owned Doug’s Burger Den, died of brain cancer earlier this month. A beloved softball coach in Eagle, Corta was given the cancer diagnosis in March 2014.

Since then, the restaurant has undergone five inspections. Two of them turned up a total of eight critical violations. (The Central District Health Department’s logs show six on-site inspections between 2010 and late 2014, with three of them finding a total of 10 critical violations.)

Manager Teresa Freinwald said last week that inspectors during their more recent visits wrote up Doug’s Burger Den for a too-hot hopper and an old shake machine, and because a new cook wasn’t properly wearing his gloves.

“Sometimes, people don’t tend to wash their hands as often when they wear gloves,” Freinwald said. “We’re kind of old-school around here. We have gloves, we wear them, but ... I just have my cooks wash their hands all the time.”

Freinwald said the restaurant’s staff includes many teenagers, and she keeps on them to wash their hands frequently.

She said the inspectors she’s dealt with tend to be fair and consistent.

“Finding one or two critical risk violations during an inspection is not uncommon — of course, the goal is to have no violations,” said Christine Myron, spokeswoman for the Central District Health Department. “Fortunately, most violations, even the critical ones, can be corrected while the inspector is on-site performing the inspection. Much of the correction can be done through education.”

Myron noted that full-service restaurants are more likely than a convenience store to get a report with red marks because of the amount of food handling they do.

Inspections are a snapshot of a restaurant’s performance on a certain day and time, Myron said.

The Blue Moose Cafe’s violations were persistent enough that it lost its license, according to the health department.

The restaurant’s doors were closed for five days until it could get relicensed, owner Marcy Anderson said. The fixes have cost close to $5,000.

“It’s important for people to be protected, and you don’t want to make anybody sick,” Anderson said. In its 16 years, the restaurant has never had a report of food-borne illness, she said.

“Our practices are not as serious as it might look on the inspection reports,” she said.

Fuxan, of the Boise Co-op, said the by-the-numbers reports that inspectors fill out “isn’t necessarily reflective of the whole story.”

The inspectors who visited the Boise Co-op’s deli offered “a lot of positive feedback throughout, told us we’re one of the busiest kitchens they work with,” Fuxan said. Much of the staff at the deli is new — replacing those who now work at the Meridian location — but had been trained well enough to pass a rigorous grilling on food-safety procedures, Fuxan said.

Several businesses have been cited with violations related to insects, rodents and animals. They’re not all the same.

An inspector in October 2014 wrote up the now-closed Busters Grill and Bar on Broadway Avenue in Boise for mice droppings on food-storage shelves, under equipment and on the floor. The business had mouse traps set out and there was evidence of infestation, the inspector noted.

“Manager does not have commercial pest control, as they are trying to take care of mouse problem themselves. He states he catches approx. 1 mouse/week,” the inspector wrote.

Busters logged 12 violations on that visit, including repeat violations.

Claudio’s food truck also was cited June 13 with an insect- or rodent-related violation. But, Claudio said, the inspector’s concern wasn’t an infestation. It was a hole in the truck’s floorboard that could allow bugs or mice to enter the truck’s cooking area.

He said he’s worked with inspectors to come up with ways to keep food safe. Still, the truck has had 13 critical violations since June.

“We’ve seen two or three things this year that were outbreaks in just Boise alone, so it makes sense” if health inspectors look closely at everything, Claudio said. “I don’t fault them at all for it. We want to make sure no one gets sick.”

Audrey Dutton: 208-377-6448, @IDS_Audrey

Most violations in a year

August 2014 to August 2015

Restaurant

Critical violations

Total violations

Number of inspections

Addie’s

6

10

2

Bakery Maria Bonita

6

7

2

Bang on the Wall Burgers

7

9

3

Big Star Coffee

7

7

1

Busters Grill & Bar

6

12

1

Cafe Ole

8

11

1

Chicago Connection

5

6

1

China Grand Buffet

5

6

1

China Palace Restaurant

10

20

3

Chinatown’s Quik-Wok

7

10

1

Doug’s Burger Den

8

13

2

Fiesta Guadalajara

8

11

1

Rembrandts

8

12

3

Rice Contemporary Asian Cuisine

5

6

1

Ridley’s Family Market - Deli

6

7

1

Sakana Sushi Restaurant

5

7

1

Sakura Sushi

11

16

2

Sharis Restaurant

6

9

2

Stubs Sports Pub

5

6

1

The Blue Moose Cafe

11

17

3

The Drink

5

12

3

Yoi Tomo Sushi

7

14

3

Total of above 22 eateries

152

228

39

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