What happens after a Restaurant Fails a Food Safety Inspection? Many Remain Open Even after a Litany of Food Safety Violations
By Tony Coveny, Ph.D., a Seattle Native
Let’s unpack the role of food safety inspections and their role in keeping food safe in the U.S. In different jurisdictions, the power of local food safety agencies, often set up as the county or municipal health department, varies a great deal. Many restaurants and food preparation establishments have repeated bad or insufficient scores following routine food safety inspections, are given multiple opportunities to cure defects, or are compelled to post bad scores in inconspicuous locations, but rarely face closure. This is not too far from what was recently the plight of the FDA, the nation’s preeminent food safety agency, which until the Food Modernization Act was passed, was hard pressed to exercise any compelling enforcement in the face of egregious violations of food safety. That law strengthened the FDA’s ability to enforce food safety, and some jurisdictions have done the same for local agencies.
I get asked all the time – “why have food safety inspections in they do not lead to changes in behavior?”
These agencies are vital, and power to shutter a repeat violator, are vital. Restaurants that are given poor grades are increasingly susceptible to bad online reviews on Yelp, Open Table, or other social medial platforms. They public need to incorporate searches of a restaurants food safety scores along with views of how good the food tastes! But beyond that, food safety inspections are about two vital things: One, they act as a reminder or educator to local establishments. It’s like a teacher showing up periodically to remind staff and owners and their staff what is expected of them and why.
Secondly, routine inspections can be a vital tool for insurers seeking to insure a restaurant (think driving records and automobile insurance), and prove substantial evidence in cases against restaurants that are responsible for food poisoning in food poisoning lawsuits. A bad track record on the heels of a preventable outbreak can lead to claims of gross negligence and punitive damages against a restaurant.
Food safety inspections are important, and as municipalities are given more power (such as King County Public Health – see below), they become ever more important in enforcing food safety practices, GMPs and HACCP procedures and standards that are vital to safeguard the public form food poisoning.
Seattle public health officials close Gourmet Wok Restaurant and Lounge
Public Health – Seattle & King County has closed a restaurant located in Renton, Washington, because of numerous food safety violations. Gourmet Wok Restaurant and Lounge on Duvall Avenue in Renton was closed by public health officials on January 18.
Inspectors found violations at the restaurant that included:
- Malfunctioning walk-in refrigerator
- Potentially hazardous foods at unsafe temperatures
- Red critical violations exceeding 90 points
In Seattle and King County, there are two basic causes of foodborne illness that health officials are especially concerned with inspecting food establishments:
- Contamination of food by food workers’ hands, other foods, or food preparation surfaces.
- Temperature control: Foods that provide a good environment for the growth of the bacteria that cause food borne illness are called potentially hazardous foods. The bacteria grow quickly in “the danger zone,” 41°F to 135°F of these foods. Therefore, these foods must be cooked to temperatures that will kill the bacteria, then kept hot (over 135°) until served, or kept cold (under 41°) until served.
When public health officials inspect a restaurant, they use a 400-point system. Violations are added up between red and blue violations. If the total red critical violations is 90 or more, or the total of red and blue is 120 or more, then the establishment will be closed.
There is no word as to whether the management of Gourmet Wok Restaurant and Lounge intends to correct the violations and re-open or if the restaurant closure is permanent.
Tony Coveny, Ph.D. is a Food Poisoning Lawyer. He works with Ron Simon of Ron Simon and Associates, a law firm that practices only food poisoning litigation and has taken the lead on many of food poisoning outbreaks in the last decade, filing food poisoning lawsuits and litigating for victims of food poisoning.