Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A second helping: revisiting health department reports of restaurants on and around campus

By Valery Jorgensen, Guest Writer

Editor’s note: The Mooring Mast investigated health department reports on Garfield Street eating establishments in the April 20 issue. This week, guest writer Valery Jorgensen re-visited the street to see how businesses have fared in subsequent inspections. Inspections are usually conducted one to four times each year.

Health reports available online have spurred local food establishments into action.  As customers can easily see what is happening behind the scenes of the food service world, managers strive for clean reports. The seriousness of infractions has become more important than ever.

The Pierce County Health Department does random routine inspections roughly one to four times a year. Restaurants are judged according to the complexity of the menu, how much raw food is used and how much food is cooked in advance. This determines how many inspections per year are required.

During this inspection, there are two types of violations: blue and red. Blue violations are low risk. Red violations are high risk and can contribute to foodborne illnesses. Points are given out for different violations in each category. A follow-up inspection is required when the total number of red points is greater than 35.

The majority of Garfield Street’s establishments and Pacific Lutheran University’s dining hall received multiple violations.

Manager Jason Heye said he takes pride in working at Farrelli’s Wood Fire Pizza. Heye said Farrelli’s last health inspection took place on Sept. 18. They received two violations for “potentially hazardous food time/temperature.”

“We had a cooling issue where we didn’t properly cool one of our items,” Heye said. “It is supposed to be cooled from a starting temperature whether it is a cooked item or not.”

The cooling is in compliance with health department standards. Heye said everything regarding cooked food is done according to the proper standards.  He continued to say the problem was “where we prepped something that was kept at room temperature.  It was put into a bin that was too large to be cooled at the proper cooling time.” To fix this problem, Heye said employees are now cooling the item before adding it into the recipe.

Each infraction counted as a red violation. The two violations added up to 40 points. This resulted in a follow-up inspection on Oct. 2, when they had no violations.

Consistency helps Farrelli’s pass inspections, Heye said. The same prep cook works six out of seven days of the week, making sure the food is done correctly. When there is a problem, it is addressed as soon as possible.

Heye also said he considers the health inspections to be “very serious. I take it personally if we don’t pass.” Heye added, “I strive to put in 100 percent, whether it is cooking, cleaning or managing to make sure the store runs smoothly.”

Reyna’s Mexican restaurant owner, Felix Guzman, spoke about his business and how he cares for public safety.

“I like to spread the word,” Guzman said. “We try to do sanitizing nice and clean for keeping things safe to eat.”

Reyna’s last inspection was Sept. 25. Reyna’s received one red violation mark for “approved source, wholesome, not adulterated food.” This specific violation concerns the improper cleaning  of fruits and vegetables.

When asked about the infraction, Guzman said, “Everything is fixed, everything is working nice.”

Because Reyna’s only had one infraction, equaling 10 points, a follow-up inspection was not necessary. Guzman said he assures customers that infractions have “nothing to do with the food.”

The Anderson University Center Commons
In a step up from their previous inspection, the Anderson University Center (AUC) received only two red violations in its routine inspection that took place on Sept. 17.

The AUC received two violations for “potentially hazardous food time/temperature.” Both of these violations had to do with broken equipment. This resulted in food not being properly cooled or warmed at the right temperature.

“Yes, we have been working on it,” Erin McGinnis, director of dining and culinary services said. Dining services purchased additional thermometers and is keeping extra logs to ensure food items are kept at proper temperatures. This way, when equipment breaks, they do not have to find out from the health department.

When an inspection is taking place, McGinnis said she likes to be kept in the loop.

“I want to know A, what is on them [the inspection reports] and B, I want to know that we are fixing it as soon as possible,” McGinnis said.

McGinnis said safety is dining services’ number one concern.

“We take it so seriously here because we are caring for you [PLU students] as family,” McGinnis said. “You are here for 15 weeks [per semester], right? So it is so important to us, because you are here and we want to make sure that everything is safe.”

The AUC dining commons has different requirements than the establishments on Garfield Street. “I can’t say it [a dining inspection] is critical for everybody out there in the restaurant business,” McGinnis said. “Because they have you come in and then you leave, right? But you [students] are here and it is our job to take care of you.”

Emerald City Smoothie
As one of the only establishments on Garfield Street to pass their health inspection with zero violations, Emerald City is one of the cleanest places in the campus vicinity.

Emerald City is owned and operated by Mary Robel, who works with her employees to make sure they continually pass inspections. Their last inspection was Feb. 5.

“Well, essentially, we abide by all of the health code rules,” Robel said. “We maintain a clean environment. We’ve got soap and towels where necessary.”

Robel added that Emerald City keeps all of the food and equipment at the proper temperatures. She said everything in the store is done according to health codes.

Robel works as a trainer for new Emerald City Smoothie locations and  said she strongly emphasizes cleanliness and the importance of maintaining a safe environment. “We take it very seriously,” she said.

Emerald City is considered a low risk establishment because there are “minimal things” that can go wrong, Robel said. Because of the low risk status, they are only inspected once a year. Robel likes to be in the store when the inspectors come but says they “literally come in and they are out.”

The highest risk of a violation for Emerald City are potential equipment malfunctions. Robel acknowledged that “it can happen” and that unforeseen circumstances can arise.

When asked about being one of the only places on Garfield Street with a clean inspection report, Robel was surprised.

Regarding her own business, Roybal said, “I’m not concerned when they [health inspectors] come in. It’s because we maintain that level that we are going to pass. I expect us to pass, we should always pass.”

Tea Leaf
Tea Leaf Chinese restaurant had the most infractions out of the establishments on Garfield Street. Tea Leaf had their routine inspection on Sept. 19. The restaurant received five red infractions and one blue infraction, equaling 105 red points and five blue points. With the 105 red points, Tea Leaf could have received one third the number of points and still been required to have a follow-up inspection. Their second inspection took place on Oct. 10 and they had no violations at that point.

Tea Leaf’s initial inspection violations included a wide array of infractions. In the Food Service Inspection Report, “potentially hazardous food time/temperature” contributed the most points to their report at 30. This violation was for proper cooling procedures.

They had two more violations for “potentially hazardous food time/temperature” under different subcategories.

Their last red violation concerned the prevention of employee hand contamination: Tea Leaf’s establishment did not have enough hand washing facilities.

The one blue violation concerned contamination. These violations skyrocketed them ahead of the other restaurants in terms of points.

A Tea Leaf employee said the manager will be away until December.