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Dirty Dining: Your favorite restaurant could be a concern for your health

(WSET)

It's not something you want to think about while you're sitting down for a meal at your favorite spot.

But, that restaurant could be under investigation for violations that concern your health.

"Our 282 environmental health specialists conducted over 60,000 food inspections last year," said Kristin Clay, with the Office of Environmental Health Services.

Clay explains there are three types of violations including priority violations, priority foundation violations, and core violations.

For example, chicken salad that can contribute directly to food borne illness. If that chicken salad were 60 degrees, it could increase the chances of bacteria to grow on it and it could make someone sick, that's a priority violation.

What made the chicken salad warm, like not putting it in the fridge or a broken cooler, would be a priority foundation violation.

Then a core violation would be general sanitation; making sure there are sinks available for hand-washing, proper sewage disposal, and an available water source.

A priority violation is supposed to be fixed within 10 days and a priority foundation violation should be fixed within three days.

ROANOKE

Five restaurants had more violations than any others in the city of Roanoke and Roanoke County.

Famous Anthony's on Grandin Road had the most with 10 violations, including four repeats that included employees not knowing to report major illnesses as well as food-holding issues.

Health officials say that's pretty common.

"One of the most commonly cited violations we found throughout the Commonwealth last year was about cold-holding for food, so food that was found above 41 degrees over a period of time," Clay said.

El Rio on Franklin Road followed Famous Anthony's with nine violations.

The health department cited them for not keeping salsa and cooked meats at the right temperature, not marking the date of food when it was cooked, and not having a person in charge.

The Plantation, Ballyhack Golf Club, and "The Q" all had eight violations on their last posted inspection.

The Plantation was cited for not separating food items and temperature problems; Ballyhack for keeping toxic chemicals near food and pest control; and "The Q" for temperature of food and sanitizing work stations.

"We want the health department to come in. They are the ones who know what is the proper thing to do. We run a restaurant. We don't know exactly what needs to be done sometimes. We understand what needs to be done, but we can't fix everything if we don't know what's wrong," said Scott Johnson, owner of "The Q".

Johnson’s restaurant has been re-inspected since receiving eight violations and this one went much better.

"Previous report, there was some things on there, but it had to do with a roof problem," Johnson said. "This time, we had like really two, three things and one of them was lighting cause the lights were off."

DANVILLE

Out of the hundreds of restaurants in Danville and Pittsylvania County, the top five with the most violations in the past year were pulled.

Topping the entire list with nine violations is Danville’s Texas Steakhouse and Saloon.

Health officials say out of the nine violations, only one is considered "priority" and consisted of violations that included unwrapped food in the cooler, raw chicken stored on the floor of the walk in cooler, and the entire kitchen in need of cleaning.

During a follow-up inspection, two of the nine violations were never fixed, according to health department records.

Management declined to comment.

The next restaurant is Kickback Jack's with six violations, three of which were priority violations.

According to the health department, employees failed to wash their hands before touching food, wore the same gloves for more than one task, and the restaurant had dirty containers and serving utensils in the kitchen.

When asked for comment, the restaurant deferred to its corporate office, who hasn't returned phone calls or requests to comment.

However, according to the health department, the restaurant did make improvements with no violations during a follow-up inspection.

Tacos Marierlin Mexican Restaurant also racked up six violations, with just one priority violation.

Some violations were for unwrapped food in refrigerator units, foods not properly dated for disposal, and having an overall dirty kitchen.

The restaurant said it would release a statement about their violations, but have not released it yet.

Coming in with five violations is Frank’s Pizza in Chatham.

"Frank’s Pizza is very popular here in this town," said Sal Carannante, the manager of Frank's Pizza. "Usually we don’t have a problem with the health department."

The five violations were for employees failing to wash their hands, food stored in a way that can cause cross contamination, food surfaces not sanitized, no sanitizer at the dish machine, and improper utensils being used.

According to the health department, three of these violations could cause food-borne illnesses.

Frank's Pizza has not had its follow-up inspection, but Carannante said usually when the business has a small issue they fix it at that time or the day after.

Santana’s Restaurant and Grill in Danville comes in fifth with three violations.

The violations were for things like food not properly dated for disposal, no soap at hand washing sink, and no working kit to test sanitizer levels to make sure they kill unwanted bacteria.

The restaurant declined to be interviewed.

Health officials said any restaurant that perpetually has a lot of violations, and can't get them corrected, eventually will come under enforcement, but that they will do everything they can to get a restaurant up to code before resorting to shutting it down.

LYNCHBURG

The five restaurants in Lynchburg with the most violations include Jimmy's On The James and The Emerald Stone Grille with 12 violations each, Rivermont Pizza with 13 violations, Fifth and Federal Barrel Station with 14 violations, Choice Hibachi Grill with 17 violations, and King House with 19 violations.

Jimmy's on the James violations included things like most prepared food items in kitchen were not dated to indicate when they were prepared, unwrapped or uncovered food in the kitchen refrigerator; no temperature measuring device located in the kitchen refrigerator and walk-in cooler; cavity of the microwave ovens have a food debris / splatter build-up; and a black mold-like build-up inside the ice machine and on the deflector panel was observed.

A statement from the owners:

Here at Jimmy’s on the James proper food handling at all stages is our number one priority. We consistently utilize the Health Departments experience and insights into continual improvement and awareness of laws and guidelines set by the State of Virginia to insure food safety for our guests. Any and all previous concerns have been corrected. The majority of these violations occurred in August of 2017 none of which were major. Also to emphasize that none of the August kitchen staff is currently employed by Jimmy’s on the James. In that time we have also remodeled and upgraded the kitchen as well as the dining room. Our commitment, dedication and passion is unwavering and you can always count on Jimmy’s on the James for quality, hospitality and community trust. Sincerely the owners, Bob Rygielski and Jessica Wade.

Emerald Stone Grill violations included soup and cheese sauce being hot held at improper temperatures -- health department determined employees began the heating process two hours prior; multiple different foods in kitchen that were in cooling process during inspection; many food items that were prepared and ready-to-eat that lacked a date mark indicating when it was prepared; and floor and wall in the grill area has accumulations of grime and food debris.

Rivermont Pizza violations included employees failed to wash their hands before putting on gloves for food preparation as well as before handling clean dishware; meatballs did not appear to be reheated to a sufficient temperature and time to eliminate pathogenic bacteria as the meatballs were found to be 90-100 degrees and had been moved to hot holding equipment; black, mold-like growth was observed on the front side of the off-white deflector panel inside the ice machine; and foods (deli meat, shredded cheese, sliced tomatoes, etc) in a prep cooler were found to be cold holding at improper temperatures above 41°F.

A statement from Rivermont Pizza:

The health and safety of our community is the number one priority at Rivermont Pizza. Although many of our past violations are minor, each is a failure that was dealt with immediately and with the utmost concern. The health department is and has been an invaluable resource throughout our 10 years of business, as we strive to provide a consistent and unique dining experience.
We offer our sincerest apology to each and every one of patrons and neighbors.

Fifth and Federal Barrel Station violations included observed pork roast not being adequately cooled to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria; employee was observed eating food on a plate in areas where they may contaminate food, clean equipment, utensils or other items needing protection; methods used for cooling were not adequate -- roast were being set on the countertops and put in walk in cooler whole for cooling; raw eggs were stored in grill drawer and one was broken and shell was laying in RTE cabbage relish for sandwiches and stored in such a manner that may cause cross contamination; and employees directly contacting exposed seasoning with their bare hands or arms in a manner that could contaminate the food after touching raw animal product.

A statement from Fifth and Federal:

The health, safety and service to our patrons is our biggest priority at Fifth & Federal. We have been open for a little over one year and any potential violations or concerns have been addressed and corrected immediately.

Choice Hibachi Grill violations included tacos,prime rib being held at improper hot holding temperature; mussells, cantelope, and sushi cold holding at improper temperatures; food employee failed to wash their hands before engaging in food preparation, after touching bare human body parts, after coughing, sneezing, eating, after handling soiled utensils or after engaging in any activity which may have contaminated their hands Employees did not wash hands after touching raw chicken, fish and beef before performing other duties; employees observed handling sushi with their bare hands; and different types of raw animal foods stored and prepared in such a manner that may cause cross contamination; equipment food-contact surfaces were observed soiled to sight and touch: prep table where raw chicken was cut and juice was running on table and shelves below table, employee pushed juice onto the floor and then dumped a bucket of bleach water on the table without washing.

A statement from management:

With 8 years of service, we are committed to continue on serving our community with the best food and quality service. Our new Kitchen Manager, Cordon Bleu Chef Javier Duran, joined our team in December 2017. He continues to add to our success every day by bringing over 32 years of experience in the restaurant business. With our chef, we’ve implemented new standard operating procedures (SOPs) that continue to meet the current Health Department regulations. Ongoing trainings with our staff are conducted to ensure a high-quality standard with each serving. With 800+ Google reviews with a score of more than 4 stars and a Certification of Excellence from Trip Advisor, we continue to foster a culture of excellence. We are the proud winner of the 2015, 2016 and 2017 Readers’ Choice Awards for the Best Buffet in Lynchburg category. We are committed to continue working with the Health Department as we continue to provide the best service to each and every one of our customers. Our chef features new items every week for the joy of our customers’ taste buds.

King House (Memorial Avenue) violations included food in contact with equipment or utensils that have not been cleaned or sanitized. Specifically, cooked foods were observed being stored in a cardboard box that previously held raw chicken; frozen & refrigerated food observed stored in plastic disposable shopping bags; harborage conditions exist for pests in the hallway leading up to as well as in the back storage room as there is clutter, old/unused equipment, etc. Additionally, rodent droppings were observed in the back storage room under and near shelving; and a knife was being stored between counter and prep cooler across from the grill/fryer area. The surface between these areas is covered in grime and old food particles.

Choice Hibachi, Fifth and Federal and Rivermont Pizza had the most priority violations.

King House also has repeated violations for leaving their door open, which isn't considered a priority violation, but inspectors believes that's the reason they found rodent droppings in November.

The owners of King House and Choice Hibachi Grill both declined to comment on the violations.

But, the owner of Choice Hibachi Grill issued a statement citing their numerous awards, positive reviews, and service projects.

We are committed to continue working with the Health Department as we continue to provide the best service to each and every one of our customers.

The State Health Department website shows many violations were corrected during the inspections for all of the above restaurants.

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So how can you be sure you're eating at a clean restaurant?

Health officials say a lot of it has to do with your gut.

"Trust your gut. When you go into a food establishment, if you don't see general cleanliness, if you observe some things like accumulation of plates on tables, if you notice your food may have an odd taste or smell, feel free to not go there," Clay said.

To search for a restaurant that's not mentioned, you can go to the Virginia Department of Health's website and search its name online, just click the link.

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