News Headlines

New Records Show More Restaurant Inspection Failures


(Reported by Dan Petrella of CU-CitizenAccess)

When public health officials conducted a routine inspection of Quizno's in Urbana last month, they discovered 12 critical health-code violations.

They included a "bag of brown lettuce found soaking in liquid in [the] walk-in cooler;" vegetables, cheese and salad dressings stored at improper temperatures; and employees cleaning cutting boards and knives without a proper sanitizer. When inspection was finished Quizno's had scored a negative 22 on the district's 100-point grading scale.

As a result, inspectors from the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District suspended Quizno's health permit on Sept. 26 and temporarily closed the restaurant at 114 N. Vine St.

Quizno's was just one of 27 Champaign County restaurants that failed routine health inspections from mid-April through September, according to records obtained from the public health district through the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

Eating establishments fail health inspections when they score below 36. The public health district suspends their permits if they receive a negative score, if they fail a mandatory re-inspection after failing a routine inspection, or if there are code violations that present an imminent risk to diners' health.

An employee who answered the phone at Quizno's last week said the owner, listed on inspection records as Bhargavkumar Patel, is out of the country until November and no one else could comment on the inspection results.

Three days after Quizno's permit was suspended, health officials returned for a re-inspection, and the restaurant was allowed to reopen after showing it was up to health standards. During the Sept. 29 re-inspection, the restaurant had no critical violations and scored 90 out of 100 points, according to the public health district report.

Restaurants are routinely inspected because unsanitary conditions can lead to food-borne illnesses such as salmonella, E. coli and Hepatitis A. Symptoms of food-borne illnesses - which can resemble the intestinal flu - include abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever and dehydration, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Quizno's wasn't the only restaurant to receive a negative inspection score during the past five months.

Luna, an upscale eatery in the former train station at Chestnut Street and University Avenue in Champaign, received a score of negative 15 on its Sept. 14 inspection.

Inspectors noted 10 critical health-code violations, including a "container of moldy mousse found in dessert reach-in cooler," an employee wiping his hands on his apron and not washing them while preparing food, and dishes being washed without the proper concentration of chlorine sanitizer.

The restaurant's permit was suspended and it was temporarily closed that afternoon. Following re-inspections on Sept. 15 and 16, Luna reopened. No critical violations were found during the last inspection, and the restaurant had raised its score to 85 out of 100.

Reached by phone last week, owner Raquel Aikman declined to discuss the inspections.

"I really can't comment," she said. "There's more involved than meets the eye."

Of the 27 restaurants that failed inspections from mid-April through September, 11 had previously failed at least once since April 2007, according to public health district records. They were Cravings, Das Café, Fat City Bar & Grill, First Wok, Golden Wok, Home of Gourmet, Mandarin Wok, Old Chicago Pasta & Pizza, Subway on Daniel Street, Woori Jib and Zelma's.

During the past five and a half months, three restaurants failed both a routine inspection and the subsequent reinspection, resulting in a temporary suspension of their health permits: Blues BBQ, Minneci's Ristorante and Woori Jib.

The following restaurants also failed: AnSun, Bevande Coffee Shop, Destihl Restaurant & Brew Works, Green Jade Chinese Restaurant, Hardee's, Kamakura Japanese Restaurant, Kofusion, Perkins Restaurant & Bakery, Spoon House, Strawberry Fields, Urbana Garden Restaurant and Xinh Xinh Café.

As CU-CitizenAccess reported last month, the district currently does not publicize the results of restaurant inspections in any form. Therefore, Freedom of Information requests are the only way to get an overall picture of how local restaurants fare on health inspections.

A previous review of records from April 2007 through mid-April of this year showed that one in 10 restaurants in the county had failed at least one inspection during that time. Some eateries failed up to five times. (The full story can be read here.)

In other nearby counties, the information is more readily available, with inspection scores posted online or letter grades posted in restaurants.

Since 2008, Champaign County public health officials have said they want to make reports from the 1,300 inspections they conduct each year available to the public on a website, but they still have not done so. Currently, they plan to have the information online in January.

This week, Jim Roberts, who oversees the district's inspection program, said that is still the goal.

As of Thursday, he had not received a draft of the plan from the software contractor that the county hired to handle its inspection database.

"I have not received a draft to review and test for accuracy, comments, or functions," he wrote in an email.

The website is being created for the district by Garrison Enterprises, a North Carolina company that specializes in the development of affordable web-based solutions for government.

Following the CU-CitizenAccess investigation, the Champaign County Board of Health last month discussed other options for making inspection information more available to the public. But board members decided to wait to see what recommendations come out of a national food-safety conference in April.

As a public service in the meantime, CU-CitizenAccess has created an online map of Champaign County restaurants that have failed inspections since April 2007 and plans to update the map monthly. (See map in sidebar.)

But to do so, the public health district requires CU-CitizenAccess to file a new freedom of information request each month.

"As we track each request by number, it would work best for the District's recordkeeping if you were to submit a request each time you were interested in receiving the information," Patricia Robinson, the district's FOIA officer, wrote in response to a request to set up a routine method for obtaining the records.

She added, "The Public Access Counselor at the Illinois Attorney General's office has ruled that submitting reports on a routine basis without the need of the requestor submitting a request each time is not a requirement of the Freedom of Information Act.