Boston eateries cited for serious violations

City inspectors last year found multiple instances of the most serious type of health and sanitary code violations at nearly half of Boston’s restaurants and food service locations, according to a Globe review of municipal data.

boston-local-food-festivalAt least two violations that can cause foodborne illness — the most serious of three levels — were discovered at more than 1,350 restaurants across Boston during 2014, according to records of inspections at every establishment in the city that serves food, including upscale dining locations, company cafeterias, takeout and fast-food restaurants, and food trucks.

Five or more of the most serious violations were discovered at more than 500 locations, or about 18 percent of all restaurants in the city, and 10 or more of the most serious violations were identified at about 200 eateries.

A violation is classified under the most serious category when inspectors observe improper practices or procedures that research has identified as the most prevalent contributing factors of foodborne illness.

Examples of such infractions include: not storing food or washing dishes at proper temperatures, employees not following hand-washing and glove-wearing protocols, and evidence that insects or rodents have been near food.

Last year, the location with the highest total of the most serious types of violation was Best Barbecue Kitchen, a small butcher shop and takeout restaurant on Beach Street in Chinatown, which racked up 70 such violations, according to city records.

That restaurant also had the highest total of violations in all categories — at 219 — last year. As of last month, Best Barbecue Kitchen had accumulated the highest number of the most serious violations: 130, dating back to 2007, when the city began posting the data online. It also had the second-highest total of violations of any type: 614.

The restaurant that had the second-highest total of the most serious violations last year was Cosi, a cafe and sandwich chain inside South Station, where 50 were found. The restaurant with the third-highest total of the most serious violations last year could be found several feet away inside South Station: Master Wok, which had 45.

Staff members at all three restaurants declined to comment last week and requests to speak with managers went unanswered.

Bob Luz, president and chief executive of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, said the safety of customers is the top priority for restaurant owners.

“Food safety is number one for every restaurateur in the state, and obviously it’s something we consider as incredibly important,” said Luz.

Uh-huh.

Restaurant inspection and disclosure LA style

A few weeks ago, NBC Los Angeles released an interactive map with confirmed food poisoning cases in L.A. county over the last 18 months. The map was published as a public service, so consumers know which restaurants to possibly avoid. But does this information really help consumers avoid food poisoning?

larry.david.rest.inspecI don’t think it’s very useful as a tool of where you’re going to have foodborne illness,” said Angelo Bellamo, the Director of Environmental Health for L.A. County.

“We’re only able to associate 25 cases each year [in L.A.] where we’ve had an outbreak that is more than a couple of people, and we’re able to verify the restaurant,” Bellamo said. “This is a big problem. It’s really under-reported, and our methods for actually determining whether or not restaurants are causing foodborne illnesses aren’t perfected yet. They’re nowhere near being perfected.”

The issue of concern is the collection of data. Right now, tips of potential contamination are collected through complaints people send to the office. Unfortunately, the information is few and far between. (Seriously, when was the last time you even considered calling the department after a particularly queasy meal?) So, rather than waiting for tips to hit their desks, officials are looking for ways to obtain it themselves.

“The use of social media is vital,” Bellamo said. He mentions a recent investigation where an investigator logged onto Yelp and found a number of complaints directed at a facility. The investigator contacted the reviewers and built the case from there. This is one way of using social media to further investigations, but also a strategy that’s far from perfected. “A lot of information in social media is not very useful, some is not credible, but there are nuggets in there,” Bellamo said. “If we found a way to selectively screen certain words or certain locations, there could be some real value there.” (Other cities have already begun using Twitter to identify outbreaks, which Bellamo believes will soon be part of L.A.’s efforts as well.)

One thing consumers shouldn’t do is simply trust the grade letter on the front window.

“It represents a snapshot in time,” Bellamo said. “That letter grade reflects the last inspection, which took place over the course of a couple of hours. You can’t look at just the letter grade.” Bellamo wants to change the current system, so that instead of simply showing how the last inspection went, to make it include an average of the last six inspections. “Good and bad days can happen to the best and poorest of restaurants,” he said. “An average score would be a lot more indicative of how that restaurant actually operates.”

Maybe look at the menu? 34 sick with Salmonella at UK pub

A Teesside pub has carried out a deep clean of key public area after ten diners tested positive for salmonella.

Anson Farm, on Teesside Industrial Estate in ThornabyStockton Council’s environmental health team and Public Health England (PHE) launched an investigation after customers of the Anson Farm, on Teesside Industrial Estate in Thornaby, reported suspected food poisoning earlier this week.

Richard Lewis, for Farmhouse Inns which runs the pub as part of the Greene King chain, said: “We are extremely sorry to hear that people are unwell. We have been working closely with the environmental health department to establish if there is a link to our pub.”

He said the five-star rating remained in place. “We have carried out a deep and thorough clean of all hard hand contact areas in the public areas, in addition to our normal cleaning regime, and we have reminded our team of the important role they play in guaranteeing our customers enjoy the highest standards every time they visit us.”

Yesterday PHE, formerly the Health Protection Agency, said a total of 34 people had reported suffering severe sickness and diarrhea after eating in the pub restaurant. The North-east centre of PHE has confirmed 10 of those people have tested positive for salmonella, with more results expected over the next few days.

Dr Deb Wilson, consultant in health protection at the PHE North East Centre, said the pub was co-operating fully with the ongoing investigation, and is “implementing a range of control measures requested by environmental health officers.”

Marijuana-infused salmon in Denver deli? Inspector calls foul

On April 20, Rosenberg’s Bagels and Delicatessen in Denver made a marijuana-infused salmon for a private 4/20 party. Once the Denver Department of Environmental Health saw the video, a food inspector visited the restaurant at 27th Avenue and Welton Street in Five Points.

smoke.salmon.marijuana“A regulated food establishment is not allowed to prepare marijuana foods in their kitchen,” said Danica Lee, food safety section manager for the Denver Department of Health. “We did issue a cease-and-desist order to make the facility understand that they cannot do that any longer.”

The YouTube video shows where science meets cooking, as a salmon is infused with marijuana, then put in the kitchen’s smoker.

“We certainly did check to make sure that they had cleaned the equipment properly and taken care of the issue, and that they’re aware of what they can and can’t do moving forward,” said Lee. “It is important that even when a facility is closed and not operating that they’re not doing anything in that kitchen that’s in violation of the food code.”

“We took our deep clean, which uses both bleach and heavy duty oven cleaner, and scrubbed every aspect of the oven, as well as did a high-temperature burn,” said Rosenberg’s owner Joshua Pollack.

Pollack spoke with 7NEWS shortly after a food inspector came by to make sure there was no more pot baking going on.

“The store was completely shut down because we’re closed on Mondays. None of it was sold. I was all for private consumption. Everyone was 21 years or older,” said Pollack. “Nothing here is infused. We don’t sell any infused products.”

‘We come from a place of education’ Jersey restaurant inspection

For consumers who really want to get the dirt before they dine, a growing number of New Jersey counties now post restaurant inspection grades online, while some post the entire reports.

Sopranos_season3_episode01In New Jersey, county or municipal health departments are required to conduct annual inspections at all establishments serving food. That includes convenience stores, bars and full-scale restaurants. School cafeterias are inspected twice a year.

These surprise inspections cover all aspects of eatery operations, from cleanliness to proper storage of foods.

Businesses can earn one of three grades in these inspections:

S – Satisfactory: The establishment is found to be operating in substantial compliance.

C – Conditionally Satisfactory: The establishment was in violation of one or more of the New Jersey State Sanitary Codes, Chapter 24 (which deals with retail food establishments and vending machines) and a re-inspection is warranted.

U – Unsatisfactory: Unsanitary or unsafe conditions result in a temporary closure of the establishment.

Camden County Freeholder Carmen Rodriguez, liaison to the county health department. Said she’s seen a definite improvement in her county’s food inspection results since the electronic system was put in place. Businesses realize their customers are paying attention.

“One of the things we’ve seen is there is a bit of an incentive for a restaurant to be self-correcting,” Rodriguez noted. “Because it goes on the web, everyone can see what the findings are. It encourages them to do the right thing. We want to see restaurant’s that are clean and functioning.”

Wendy Carey, chief registered environmental health specialist for the Gloucester County Department of Health, Senior & Disability Services, said, “We come from a place of education.” Inspectors meet with managers and establish a dialogue.

Food may suck in Saudi Arabia; 2,745 restaurants shut for health violation

Samples of food items and drinks taken from more than 2,000 restaurants in Jeddah were found to be contaminated with 11 types of harmful bacteria, a municipal source has said.

saudi.arabia.foodThe shocking results of food samples, which were tested at municipal laboratories, forced the authorities to close down as many as 2,745 restaurants in the last four months, local media reported on Monday.

The bacteria found in the food samples included coliform, which thrive on contaminated food and can cause diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and fever.

It contaminates water, meat, dairy and poultry products, vegetables and fruits with an incubation period of 12 to 72 hours.

You don’t like our meals, we’ll make the meals, safe

The Syndicate of Restaurant Owners is mobilizing to provide Lebanon’s eateries with better information and training in order to improve food safety. A new initiative to improve food safety standards is now in progress across the country.

soprano.foodOn May 15, at the Mir Amin Palace in the Chouf, the syndicate presented a comprehensive plan to promote food safety, in collaboration with Boecker and GWR Food Safety.

Aref Saade, the syndicate’s treasurer, told The Daily Star that implementation of the plan has been in the works for some time. The group began planning the initiative a couple of years ago, but work was halted for a time.

But following a nationwide crackdown by Health Minister Wael Abu Faour last November, efforts to implement the program began anew.

“In Lebanon for the past 50-60 years there has not been legislation – we don’t have new things … we are still using old legislation with regard to health and with regard to food. [But] there have been big developments and [there is more] pollution worldwide,” Saade said, adding that these days people are more likely to be exposed to viruses and bacteria.

The plan’s program focuses on three main things: food safety, insect and pest management, and customer service.

Because it’s all about the celebrities and bureaucratic BS: Food poisoning, filth exposed at popular LA restaurants

When the health inspector showed up at Wolfgang’s Steakhouse in Beverly Hills last fall, he found a cockroach in the hall and poor sanitation in the kitchen. He found enough critical violations, he threatened to suspend their permit and said he’d be back in two weeks to make sure they had cleaned up.

mel-gibson-is-insane_344x372But seven months later, the inspector still has never been back to Wolfgang’s.

The county’s 10 million residents depend on the health department to inspect restaurants often, to make sure they’re clean and safe. But an NBC4 I-Team investigation has found LA County is failing to inspect many restaurants frequently, and food poisoning and filth at some eateries may be the result.

“We could be doing a better job in many areas,” says Angelo Bellomo, the head of the county’s restaurant inspection program, and director of LA County Environmental Health.

Restaurants like Nobu in Malibu, which serves sushi to celebrities like Halle Berry and Mel Gibson, are required to be inspected three times a year, according to LA County Health Department policy.

“I’d like to see three inspections a year in high-risk restaurants,” said LA County’s Bellomo.

Most restaurants are considered “high risk” because they handle raw meat, poultry, and fish.

But when I-Team examined the last two years of all restaurant inspections, it found thousands of high-risk restaurants aren’t getting anywhere near the required three inspections a year.

When 13 people who ate at Nobu contracted potentially deadly Norovirus in November 2014, the restaurant hadn’t had an inspection in over a year — October 2013. Nobu declined to comment to NBC4.

Nobu is hardly the exception.

“I felt terrible. There was headache, shaking, nausea,” Burt Holstein told NBC4, about the food poisoning he and six other family members got after eating at Lunasia Restaurant in Alhambra last May.

Inspectors showed up, ordered the restaurant to correct numerous violations, and were supposed to return in a few weeks.

But eight months later, Lunasia still hasn’t had a return visit from an inspector.

“If the restaurant was shown to have problems, if people have become sick, they should be inspecting the place often,” said food poisoning victim Holstein.

In fact, when there’s a food poisoning investigation at a restaurant, it’s LA County policy that an inspector must return to do a follow-up inspection within two weeks. But that often doesn’t happen.

Last December, the county investigated a complaint of food poisoning at the trendy Coast Cafe at Shutters Hotel in Santa Monica, and an inspector should’ve returned by early January. But records obtained by the I-Team show the inspector never came back, until he got another complaint of food poisoning more than three months later.

Chief inspector Bellomo told the I-Team he hopes the health department will soon start doing more frequent inspections. But an internal Health Department memo, obtained by the I-Team, said “second inspections” of most restaurants “shall not be conducted” this fiscal year because of low “staffing levels.”

Chief Bellomo admitted the problem isn’t money. Instead of filling the 60 or so vacant inspector positions, Bellomo said he’s chosen to hire more health department managers.

“You’re playing Russian roulette when you go out to dinner,” said Dr. Pete Snyder, a nationally known food safety expert who has trained health inspectors. “If you’re only inspecting once or twice a year, then the restaurants don’t fear you anymore.”

Diners are also finding that an “A” grade in the window doesn’t mean a restaurant has been inspected lately, or that it’s necessarily safe. Wolfgang’s, Coast Cafe at Shutter’s, Nobu, and Lunasia all had “A”s when people got sick there or when inspectors found critical violations.

Why observation studies matter: Inspector alert

Anecdotally, inspectors and operators alike report that stuff, like behaviors, change as soon as the inspector walks in the door. A particularly common practice is for everyone to grab a broom or start washing their hands.

I just saw the precursor to the change in the wild.51P80ZAH19L

Sometimes I need to get off campus to catch up on writing and other stuff. When I’m behind or stuck, I often hit a cafe, a restaurant or a patio and whip out my computer for a couple of hours. There’s something about being in a busy place with lots of background action that helps me focus.

As I sit here at one of my favorite local spots, I heard the manual Mario-Batali-restaurant-inspector-alarm.

A manager just came up to a couple of waitstaff and a cook and said, ‘Just got a text from next door that the health inspector is in the area; make sure all of our logs are filled out and the out-of-date food is chucked.’

Everyone scurried away to take care of stuff that would lead to a bad score. They are currently watching the entrance to see if the inspector is the next through the door.

Inspection reports provide some decent data. But the Hawthorne Effect-esque issue led us to explore other observation data-collection methods.

Pittsburgh: a disappointment in hockey and restaurant inspection disclosure

As Pittsburgh continues to grapple with restaurant inspection disclosure – or not — the town of Little Elm, Texas, has decided to add QR codes to the technology that is being utilized by its health services department, in order to help to improve efficiency when it comes to the effort to maintain transparency with restaurant inspection results.

QR-code-SCANVenger-Hunt-300x169Way to go Pittsburgh, you’ve been upstaged by Little Elm. Texas. That’s gotta hurt.

Through the use of this new system, it is possible for people to be able to scan the unique QR codes posted with the inspection signage for each restaurant. Upon scanning, the user will be directed to a website that contains the inspection notes that were made for the restaurant about which the mobile device user is inquiring. This system also allows the results of the inspections to be updated and distributed nearly immediately.

The QR codes based program is based on the same one that has become quite popular in nearby Plano.

The information about a restaurant’s inspection is updated by way of the QRcode as soon as it is complete. This way, residents and visitors to the town will be able to check on the latest scores for that restaurant within a matter of seconds. This, according to Mike Green, the community integrity director.

Green explained by providing an example that said “Let’s say we’re in the kitchen doing the inspection, and you pull into the parking lot of that restaurant,” adding that “As soon as we finish the inspection, the score changes online. You can literally see the newest score of the place you’re about to eat at while you’re in the parking lot.”

A growing number of municipalities are incorporating QR codes into their restaurant inspection systems as it is a highly cost efficient way to upload and share the information with the public.