Kitchen Noshing Cited; 2 Of 32 Eateries Fail

Allan Appel PhotoOne of Bruce Bennett’s workers was sipping coffee between busy waves of customers. That wouldn’t have bothered city health inspectors—if he weren’t sipping in the kitchen.

But he was—and his employer, Oaxaca Kitchen on College Street, lost two points along the way to failing its most recent inspection.

Health guidelines explicitly state that the eating and drinking cannot take place in food prep areas. Workers in restaurants must take all their sips, noshes, and meals in the dining area or some other non food-prep area.

Inspectors checked up on 32 food establishments between Jan. 29 and Feb. 4. All but two passed. The other one that failed, Black Bear Saloon, also got a demerit for eating being observed in the kitch.

City sanitarians inspect all of New Haven’s restaurants, groceries, bars, and other food-serving establishments between one and four times a year. Establishments that score less than 80 usually have two weeks to make the recommended corrections. The health department can also close a restaurant regardless of its score if the sanitarians suspect an immediate danger to public health. (Scroll down in this story for results of the latest round of inspections.)

Inspectors stress that a low score doesn’t mean a restaurant is always failing. Nor does a high or even perfect score mean an eatery is always squeaky clean. Rather it means that at the moment of the inspectors’ unannounced visit, they found the conditions they reported. That’s why city Environmental Health Director Paul Kowalski calls each inspection a kind of sanitary “snapshot.”

Oaxaca Kitchen’s Bennett said that while he was disappointed the current score wasn’t similar to the high 80s and low 90s Oaxaca Kitchen has consistently received on previous inspections. He stressed how important the inspections are to keep restaurant operators on their toes.

“We have taken action on every single point,” he said.

That includes making sure customers don’t visit in the food prep area, which was another violation cited.

If you want to check out a restaurant, “stick your head in the kitchen,” Kowalski said. But leave your body out.

The regulations prohibit noshing, sampling, or visiting in the kitchen in order to emphasize “these are food services areas,” not relaxed spaces like a home kitchen, said Kowalski.

“Is a visitor properly dressed? Is he clean?” Kowalski asked rhetorically.

If a food worker sips and noshes, or invites in a pal or customer, what’s next? A visitor bringing in medicine bottles? It’s a slippery slope, Kowalski said.

Bruce Bennett said he has no problem with any of this:  “We respect it.”

Following are the results of the latest inspections around town.

The Winners
During the Jan.29 to Feb.4 period, 30 passed. The two that did not were ordered to make required changes within two weeks. The following received passing grades:

1/29/2013: Thai Taste Restaurant, 1151 Chapel St., Score: 87; Skappo Merkato, 51 Orange St., Score: 94; Skappo Italian Wine Bar, 59 Crown St., Score: 91; Congress Mini Market LLC, 750 Congress Ave., Score: 85; Wood Dining Services, 18 Tower Lane, Score: 87; Orchard Market, 738 Orchard St., Score: 88; Rudy’s, 1227 Chapel St., Score: 86;

1/30/2013: La Molienda, 113 Grand Ave., Score: 88; CT At Your Convenience LLC, 121 Grand Ave., Score: 86; Victors Mini Mart & Deli, 304 Grand Ave., Score: 86; New Horizons School, 103 Hallock Ave., Score: 93; Brazi’s Restaurant, 201 Food Terminal Pl., Score: 94

1/31/2013: SCSU Adanti Student Center, 501 Crescent St., Score: 82; Ivy Noodle Inc., 316 Elm St., Score: 85; Wok No 1, 376 Lombard St., Score: 87; Caffe Bravo, 794 Orange St., Score: 87; Barnard School, 170 Derby Ave., Score: 87; Sandra’s Next Generation, 636 Congress Ave., Score: 82; The Fat Sandwich, 89 George St., Score: 89; Aramark, 1 Columbus Plaza, Score: 91; Ivy Bistro, 302 Winchester Ave., Score: 86;

2/1/2013: Subway (Shazia & Zamir LLC,  188 Grand Ave., Score: 94; Fair Haven Middle School, 164 Grand Ave., Score: 95John Daniels School, 569 Congress Ave., Score: 93; Miso, 15 Orange St., Score: 80; Million LLC, 15 Orange St., Score: 80; China Cafe, 15 Orange St., Score: 80

2/4/2013: Domino’s Pizza, 357 Whalley Ave., Score: 90; Dunkin Donuts, 323 Whalley Ave., Score: 92; Shang Hai, 363 Whalley Ave., Score: 83

The 2 Needing Improvement
During the Jan. 29 to Feb. 4 period, the following two failed their inspections:

Black Bear Saloon
124 Temple St.
Score: 76

• Hang up mops and brooms when not in use
• Store wipe cloths in sanitary solution when not in use
• Minimize bare hand contact with ready to eat foods
• Wipe baffels on hood system
• Don’t use hand sink for any other purpose but hand washing
• Label product out of original containers
• Touch up defective shelves, wipe shelves, clean tracks on sliding doors, fix defective tracks on cooler
• Need thermometer in warmest location in coolers holding prepared hot foods
• Hollow straws on bar not protected
• Fix defective vinyl covers, fix defective flooring, clean floors under and around equipment
• Clean fan cover, clean wall board, fix defective wallboard and ceiling tiles
• Don’t store food or drink on the floor
• Missing light shield on bulb in walk in cooler
• Seal floor/wall junctions
• Wipe inside of coolers and freezers
• Touch up defective exterior on equipment, wipe exterior of equipment
• Fix defective sink basin and urinal in men’s bathroom
• Fix defective gaskets on doors, clean gaskets
• Don’t use small plastic cup as scoop in food
• Invert single serve containers
• Clean can opener blade, holder, frame
• No eating in a food prep area, no drinking from an open uncovered container in food prep area
• Lower hot water in bath hand sink (1st floor) to in between 110 and 115 degrees
• Need soap and paper towels at bath hand sink
• Seal gaps in exterior doors
• Need covered trash can in bath (1st floor) for female hygiene products

Oaxaca Kitchen/Bar & Restaurant
228 College St.
Score: 69

• Hang up mops and brooms when not in use
• Need thermometer in warmest location in coolers holding prepared hot foods
• Fix defective gaskets in doors, clean gaskets
• Label product not in original containers
• Don’t store utensils in standing water
• Cover exposed food product
• Wipe inside coolers and freezers
• Clean wall behind grill, wipe air vents, touch up defective walls, clean walls
• Clean can opener blade, holder, and frame
• Store wipe cloths in sanitary solution when not in use
• Refill soap dispenser at hand sink
• Don’t line shelves with cloth or plastic wrap
• Wipe shelves, wipe exterior of equipment
• Invert glasses on pre-set tables
• Fix defective ceiling, fix defective seat covers
• No drinking from an open (uncovered) container [container], customer in a food prep area
• Hair restraints
• Clean floors under and around equipment
• Label toxic items in spray bottles
• Liquor bottles with fruit flies in them
• Use approved methods to defrost food products

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posted by: Atwater on February 8, 2013  10:50am

Average scores should be published either quarterly or annually. By the inspector’s own admission, the sporadic visits don’t create a realistic picture of a certain restaurant’s cleanliness, or lack thereof.
Also, Mr. Kowalski should take it down a notch. The slippery slope argument, from casual visitor of a kitchen to someone smuggling in medicine bottles, it’s a bit of a stretch. Was Mr. Kowalski clean when he made the inspection? Did he have any medicine on him at the time? What about chap stick or a used handkerchief in his pocket? Did he wear a biohazard suit or at least a mask and gloves while in the kitchen? It looks like this man is nit picking and trying, just trying to eke out a fine, anything to help fill the city’s coffers.

posted by: Abdelnoir on February 8, 2013  12:07pm

I have more than 15 years experience working in the restaurant industry.  There are few places I enjoy worry free eating in New Haven or anywhere.  One of the most disturbing violations cited here today and often in other reviews, is not storing wipe cloths in sanitary solution when not in use.  This is a very basic rule that was very strictly followed in the better places I have worked.  It means a few things…  That the station where the the cloth is used is not being properly sanitized.  Most stations have a cutting board where food is routinely processed before being plated.  All kinds of germs can accumulate here from wiping bits of meat from, say sandwiches that have been cut before plating.  Bits of meat fall onto the cutting board, are wiped of with a rag that is not being sanitized and used over and over throughout the course of the shift.  Possibly until it is too dirty to use any more, (though some will just keep using the same nasty rag).  The bits of food, meat juice and whatever can get spilled on the board in the course of a day are on that rag deteriorating through out the shift in a hot kitchen.  Not to mention the sweat from hands and all manner of possibilities where rags are concerned.  That “rag” is basically what your sandwich or steak or blackened chicken is being cut on.  This is a very basic violation that would make me concerned overall about a restaurant’s adherence to safe practices where handling food is concerned.

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on February 8, 2013  2:04pm

“Health guidelines explicitly state that the eating and drinking cannot take place in food prep areas. Workers in restaurants must take all their sips, noshes, and meals in the dining area or some other non food-prep area.”

This one and the one about the special dedicated sink for handwashing just strike me as weird mumbo jumbery.  Can anybody explain what the point is?

posted by: streever on February 8, 2013  4:12pm

Abdelnoir, all types of germs collect there all the time! Just use a wooden cutting board, which absorbs germs safely.

Gretchen: there is no real point to requiring a cook to not eat anything in food prep. I mean honestly, who wants food which wasn’t tasted? I want my chef to sample a bite as they cook, making sure that it tastes good and is the right temperature/spice/etc.

Call me cynical, but I find it very unlikely that a spot visit once a year actually discovers anything relevant, concerning, or timely to preventing health problems.

posted by: Abdelnoir on February 8, 2013  4:19pm

@ GP… I think the idea is to attempt to maintain relatively pristine conditions in which to prepare food.  I think it’s a little like your surgeon taking a sandwich and coffee break in the ER.  There is also the threat of cross contamination if the cup has been placed on any surfaces that are not sanitized and brought onto the station. While I think the risk of cross contamination is low in this case, it still exists and I think the health department standards try to control for even minute risks though I agree they can seem like overkill.

posted by: HhE on February 8, 2013  5:44pm

I think their is a profound difference between “risk management” and “risk aversion/avoidance.”  I’m all for the former, but thanks to lawyers and law suits, we get the later. 

Any society that lets the lawyers (or the entertainment industry) sets its values has truly lost its way. 

It is true that on my Mother’s side of the family, no one eats chocolate ice-cream.  My great grandfather and great uncle in law both worked in the food industry, and they let everyone in on how tainted ice cream was sold off; just add chocolate to cover the bad taste.

posted by: HhE on February 8, 2013  5:50pm

PS Where shall we go to eat to “stick it to The Man?”

posted by: Abdelnoir on February 8, 2013  6:28pm

@ Streever… While it is true that germs collect there all the time, the purpose of having a cloth in sanitizer is to sanitize the cloth which you then use to sanitize your station… every time you use your board.  This greatly decreases the chances of cross contamination.  When preparing food for others I take great care and pride in cleanliness and safe food handling practices and am food safe certified.  To say that sanitization is not a necessity is ludicrous.  Why would you not take the best precautions possible?  Next time you eat a salad remember that this station requires the most crucial level of care as it is raw.  It is hard to believe that anyone would feel comfortable eating salad or anything that came from an unsanitized cutting board.