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The lists that started it all @ GFC

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The lists that started it all

posted by snekse
So I figured I should give a little background on why I decided to list the Health Inspection Ratings for 2006.

I try to keep up with all of the local news and reviews about all things food related for the Omaha area. Yesterday I read Jim Delmont's list of top ten dining spots of 2006. I won't go into how unexceptional his list is since every list gets attacked for various reasons.

Instead, I want to focus on one specific pick: Hong Kong Cafe (Miracle Hills location). I have never eaten at this restaurant, yet I believe it's made this paid food critics list on more than one occasion. The reason this surprises me is because of the article below. Would you trust a critic that recommends a place cited for keeping chicken at 63.8 degrees outside in a bucket?

Eight Omaha Restaurants Get Poor Health Grades
Inspectors Rate Restaurant Good-Fair In 8 Cases


POSTED: 12:24 pm CST February 9, 2005
UPDATED: 8:52 am CST February 10, 2005

OMAHA, Neb. -- Health department records obtained by KETV NewsWatch 7 find eight Omaha restaurants with a pattern of code violations. Each restaurant has received the health department's lowest rating on four consecutive inspections.

Investigator Carol Kloss went behind kitchen doors to see how health inspectors are trying to ensure that your dining out experience is a healthy one.

With cameras rolling, Kloss dropped in on the eight restaurants. The Douglas County Health Department inspects every restaurant twice a year and gives them a grade. The highest grade is "excellent, " then "excellent-good, " "good" and the lowest grade is "good-fair." Anything lower than that and the health department would shut the restaurant down.

"To actually shut a place down on the spot, we need to have an immediate health risk to the public," said Jeff Radcliffe, a Douglas County restaurant inspector.

Radcliffe said that is rare. He's been inspecting restaurants in Douglas County for 16 years.

"The inspector has to look at the overall restaurant and try to conclude, are these people trying to keep a clean restaurant and address problems, or are they letting things slide?" Radcliffe said.

Radcliffe said the restaurants that let things slide get the "good-fair" grade. Kloss went to visit those establishments that got a "good-fair" four times in a row. The visits included:

Cascio's Steakhouse, on South 10th Street
China One Restaurant, at 108th Street and John Galt Boulevard
Don Carmelo's Pizzeria, at 35th and Farnam streets
El Palenque, on South 24th Street
Hong Kong Café, at 114th and Dodge streets
Lee's China, at 75th and Pacific streets
Richie's Chicken & Ribs, at 35th and Center streets
The Sitar, at 125th and West Center Road

Kloss dropped in on each of these restaurants, checking if they've made improvements since their last health department inspection.

"I don't want you guys in here this time," someone at Richie's Chicken said upon Kloss arrival.

This wasn't the first time Kloss had dropped in at Richie's Chicken & Ribs. The last time Richie made the list was in 1998. He cooperated with camera crews that time, but not this time.

Richie wasn't the only one that didn't let Kloss in. Cascio's owner wasn't available to give permission to see the kitchen. A manager on duty tried to reach the owner, but no one answered the phone.

Some restaurants did let the camera into their kitchens.

"Sure, you can come take a look," said Albert Mah, the owner of Hong Kong Cafe.

During its last inspection, the health department cited the Hong Kong cafe for storing chicken at temperatures above 45 degrees. When Kloss checked, temperatures appeared to be just at or below 45.

Kloss: "That looks pretty close. Before they said the chicken was at 63.8 degrees Fahrenheit."

Mah: "That must have been at time when the chicken was outside in a bucket."

Kloss: "Do you have chicken in a bucket right now?"

Mah: "No. Everything's stored in there."

At Don Carmelo's, the inspector didn't find any temperature problems, but she did find a back room in disrepair and with improper lighting.

Kloss: "Have there been improvements made?"

Pat Mischo, Don Carmelo's owner: "Yeah, I've put this light in. I'm trying to get this ceiling painted."

At the China One Buffet, cold foods are now below 45 degrees at 41.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Kloss also looked at the hot foods, and found they were kept about 135 degrees -- just as the health inspector ordered.

China One Buffet had also been cited in 2004 for mouse droppings in a the utility room. Kloss revisited that room, and took her tape to pest expert Dennis Ferraro.

Kloss: "Are these still mouse dropping back here?"

After looking at the videotape, Ferraro said that's exactly what they were. Some of the droppings have been here awhile, he said.

"You have the white ones, which means they're very old, and the black here, shiny, that's fairly fresh," Ferraro said.

A representative with China One Buffet was asked whether mousetraps are used where the droppings were found. He said there are traps out and they have been catching mice.

Kloss video also showed a gray mass on the floor.

"Gosh, it almost looks like fur," Ferraro said. "That's much bigger than a mouse, and it's not the color of a mouse."

Ferraro said it could be shredded material that the mice have turned into bedding. Not even the pest expert knows for sure. But he does know that China One has some kind of serious rodent problem.

"There should be very little tolerance for rodents, especially the house mouse," Ferraro said.

But it is apparently not serious enough to shut China One down.

"No," inspector Radcliffe said. "That wouldn't necessarily be enough to say, 'Hey, you're closed right now.'"

China One does have proof of regular visits from the pest exterminator. But Ferraro thinks the restaurant could make better use of traps and bait stations inside and out to get rid of mice once and for all.

"They could be reproducing on the inside, and that bait station on the outside isn't stopping the reproduction of mice indoors," Ferraro said.

Radcliffe agrees that all of the restaurants on Kloss list could do better. He said it's no excuse for restaurants to say they're old or impossible to keep clean. He said owners just need to show some effort.

Eight of Douglas County's 1,393 restaurants got the lowest grades. When Kloss checked 5 years ago, 13 made the list, and there were 132 fewer restaurants in the city then.

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