Target 8 Investigation: Inspections Reveal Restaurant Violations
COLUMBIA - A Target 8 investigation of recent inspection reports of local eateries found numerous common violations among those restaurants receiving violations. The Columbia/Boone County Department of Health conducts the investigations and the most recent restaurant inspections are available online.
"It's important for consumer awareness... it's one of those buyer beware things and frankly it was because of consumers that we did it," Columbia/Boone County Department of Health and Human Services' Kala Gunier said. "The request was there, so it's public record."
The Target 8 investigation began soon after two restaurants in the Columbia Mall were shut down in light of recent food code inspections. KOMU 8 News dug through the public data for 457 Boone County restaurants' most recent inspections to find the most common violations.
Restaurants are randomly inspected two to three times a year by the health department to ensure they are staying up to date with the Missouri Food Code. Each restaurant is cited for critical and non-critical violations.
According to the code, a critical item is, "More likely than other violations to contribute to food contamination, illness, or environmental health hazard." A restaurant's permit is suspended if there are more than 10 critical violations, 25 non-critical violations, or a combination of both critical and non-critical violations totaling more than 30.
Critical items are expected to be corrected during the health inspection, or within 72 hours if more time is allotted.
"The problems vary on the type of establishment it is," Gunier said. "It's very hard to compare establishments because, for example, a food service establishment like a convenience store that only sells milk, hot dogs on a roller or pre-packaged sandwiches, is obviously a lot different public health risk than an establishment who prepares items from scratch."
Some of the most common violations KOMU 8 found during its investigation include:
- Deeply scored cutting boards that aren't cleaned easily
- Unlabeled spray bottles
- Dirty utensils
- Dishes and plates put back in storage before being air-dried
The average number of violations for restaurants inspected in Columbia and Boone County is three. Stir Fry 88 and Famous Cajun Grill in the Columbia Mall both far exceeded that average, crossing the maximum number of violations. New Jingo's, El Maguey on Conley Road and Bleu Restaurant and Wine Bar were among the other top violators in terms of the number of violations.
Stir Fry 88 in Columbia Mall's Food Court had 37 violations during its most recent inspection and was shut down early October. Some violations included "soiled cardboard box storing raw meats," "roaches present," "raw chicken stored over ready to eat foods," "ice machine soiled," and "cutting board soiled and stored improperly."
Famous Cajun Grill, also in the Columbia Mall, had 30 violations during its most recent inspection, including: "squid in walk in uncovered," "cutting board soiled, knife on cutting board soiled," "unlabeled spray bottle," "roach infestation present, roach feces present." Famous Cajun Grill was shut down as well.
KOMU 8 News contacted Columbia Mall management regarding the most recent health inspections. Rusty Strodtman, mall manager, replied in writing, "The safety and well-being of our visitors are of paramount importance to us. Food vendors, whether at a mall or elsewhere, have a responsibility to operate under the highest of health and safety trends. We support and cooperate fully with all health department inspections of food vendors. Anytime a violation or infraction is discovered we require and expect our food vendors to take immediate corrective action. The restaurants are currently closed as a result of the franchisee having their franchise agreement terminated. Both restaurants are going thru a remodel and training of new employees and management"
New Jingo's Chinese restaurant on Broadway was just two violations away from being shut down with 28 violations, including "roach on light in kitchen," and "unapproved chemicals stored in dry storage" as well as, "storage shelf for clean plates dirty" and "beef sitting out at 72 degrees on counter."
KOMU 8 News contacted New Jingo's management to check on the progress of the restaurant since its most recent inspection. Management said, "We have cleaned up since the last health inspection. We have Steve's Pest Control regularly check our store about every three weeks to check and make sure everything is okay. Everything is clean since the last inspection."
El Maguey Mexican restaurant on Conley Road near Sam's Club was cited for 20 violations during its last inspection, including "dead roaches under dish machine" a "dirty tomato slicer" and "slime mold inside of ice bin."
KOMU 8 News contacted El Maguey management and after repeated attempts, the restaurant did not comment.
And finally, Bleu Restaurant and Wine Bar on East Walnut Street had 17 violations during its last inspection including, "cutting boards not easily cleanable," "slime mold in the ice bin downstairs," "egg salad stored at 50 degrees in cooler," and "sanitizer pail stored on counter with food."
KOMU spoke with Bleu's owner Travis Tucker regarding the violations. He sent KOMU a written statement stating, "Every one of our critical violations were corrected immediately and there was no need for follow up inspection at all ... with an inspection in a building that is over 15K square feet, yes there are always challenges in a building of this size. The other thing to consider is in restaurants ... that create everything made from scratch, we are scrutinized harder than places that dump it out of a bag and reheat it or fry it. We are not perfect, but we strive to improve daily."
Tucker also explained the critical violations Bleu Restaurant and Wine Bar was cited for.
"Critical 1 -A sanitation container sitting on a food prep surface, (no food was being prepped there) and that was considered a "Critical" violation. We simply moved the container."
"Critical 2 'critical violation' was our egg salad that we serve and make daily in house was a 'Critical Violation' because it was just made. It temped at 50 degrees and needs to be at 41 or below. So, how are we to make egg salad in a climate controlled room and not allow the temperature to raise slightly. Although it was just made and I would have fed it to my young children, we had to throw it away. It had just been placed back into the cooler."
"3rd Critical - We had just used the slicer and it had not been wiped down, we then received a "Critical as it was not yet cleaned."
"4th Critical - A baker's saddle (Item used to weight flour & other dry ingredients) was on a shelf and it had some flour that had collected on it and needed wiping off prior to using. Interesting how flour in a pastry station might have settled on a unit to measure flour."
"5th Critical - Ice Cream that was labled 'not vanilla' so it was an ice cream we had made and someone on staff labled it 'not vanilla' we threw it out but this was critical."
"6th Critical - Ice Bin in the lower level needed cleaning. This unit had been out of service for over 2 years in this building. When we moved into this building it was not working. I had just had the compressor replaced that week, and it was working again. Yes, it did need cleaning and we had not used any ice from the bin since it had been repaired."
KOMU also dug deeper into the bug citations for Boone County restaurants. Steve's Pest Control's Glen Hoerschgen told KOMU that insects are common at restaurants but most are easily preventable.
"The number one hot spot is going to be pulling out that refrigerator and looking in that motor compartment, they love it back there." Hoerschgen said. "Nobody bothers them. There's moisture, or condensation, coming off of coils back there so they have water and a good place to hide."
Seventeen restaurants were cited with insects in recent routine health inspections, six of those with cockroaches, including El Maguey, New Jingo's, Stir Fry 88 and Famous Cajun Grill. Along with the four who commented above, Tequila Mexican Restaurant on Providence Road and Nifong and McDonald's in Ashland were cited for cockroaches during most recent health inspections.
KOMU 8 News spoke with Tequila Mexican restaurant management who said, "Tequila Mexican Restaurant contacted Steve's Pest Control immediately after the last health inspection. They come regularly to address any issues we may have and to inspect our restaurant. We have not had a problem since the original incident."
The McDonald's in Ashland responded in writing as well by noting, "McDonald's takes cleanliness in its restaurants very seriously which is why we consistently have good inspection reports. We contract with a local pest control company for regular visits to help us maintain a healthy and safe dining environment. They were called immediately for service, even though no live insects were found. Additionally, a machine leaking a small amount of water was repaired and sealed to prevent attracting pests. Our follow up inspection had zero violations."
The health department said it relies on consumers to report complaints if they witness something while dining in Boone County.
KOMU 8's research includes the published, routine health inspections for each restaurant during the past year. According to each restaurant cited in this article, each adhered to the Food Code regulations and have cleaned up since last inspections.
REPORTER NOTE: After airing this Target 8 Investigation Monday, New Jingo's management contacted KOMU 8 and wanted to change the frequency of when Steve's Pest Control checks the restaurant. Instead of every three weeks, the restaurant is checked every two weeks for pests.