Moldy food, flies and ants were among some of the violations health inspectors flagged during routine inspections of area eateries in the past 17 months.
Inspectors found a total of 4,187 violations during 2,286 inspections of 682 food establishments in the county during the past inspection year, said Spencer Ballard, Food Safety Team supervisor with the Ottawa County Health Department.
To see the complete list of area restaurants and their number of violations, CLICK HERE.
For the complete inspection report, CLICK HERE.
The inspections serve as a check to ensure restaurants are following the law and that the public’s health is protected. Ballard said residents should keep in mind that an inspection is a snapshot in time.
“Restaurants have good and bad days, just like people,” he said. “To properly evaluate a restaurant’s compliance, multiple inspections are needed.”
Establishments open year-round are inspected about once every six months, while seasonal establishments operating nine months or less are inspected once per season.
During the visits, inspectors walk through kitchens, ask questions about practices and note items such as food temperatures and sanitation measures.
In Northwest Ottawa County a total of 1,490 violations were found at 153 establishments since October 2011. Six kitchens kept a spotless record with no violations, while inspectors found 13 eateries that had 21 or more violations.
Restaurant owners say they must continually keep up on health standards, and train their team members accordingly. This can be a daunting task for some restaurants, especially those that require an influx of seasonal workers.
Steve Loftis, owner of Harbor Restaurants, noted that since 2000, there have been four changes to Michigan Health Code laws.
“Each time a new variation or regulation is enacted, both health inspectors and restaurants must be re-educated and adjust to the new standards,” he said.
Another challenge Loftis said he faces is that inspection rules can be vague or interpreted differently.
Loftis said one inspector may find a certain procedure is a violation while another sees it within regulations. He said a constant infusion of new inspectors unfamiliar with equipment and operations doesn’t help.
When Dee-Lite Bar & Grill was inspected on June 19, 2012, the health inspector noted violations such as employees drinking a beverage without a lid on it and tomatoes stored at 41 degrees. The restaurant was hit with 16 violations.
Loftis said a law had changed eight weeks prior regarding storage temperatures, and they hadn’t been notified.
“There is always something that we can be cited for,” he said. “This is true of every restaurant. However, we have had inspections where we were not cited for a single thing.”
When Anthony’s Kicked Up Catering began four years ago, they also faced numerous violations.
Anthony Gonnella, the establishment’s owner, said one of the hurdles they had to overcome involved making sure that the fresh foods they use in their meals are used within five days.
Gonnella said they worked with the health department to create logs to document food purchases and usage.
Additionally, they brought in a retired health inspector to provide guidance, and re-staffed the business. Once they did that, Gonnella said they saw violations start to come down, and even received a violation-free inspection in the fall.
Another example of how seriously restaurants take food safety is how the Grand Haven location of Butch’s Beach Burritos achieved zero violations in its June 11, 2012, inspection.
The eatery’s Spring Lake location, however, was cited for a violation on Oct. 24, 2012, when the inspector found “greenish mold growth” in a walk-in cooler.
When problems arise, Jim Thayer, owner of both establishments, said he works quickly to correct issues and train employees to ensure food safety.
Thayer said keeping the restaurants safe and clean comes down to knowing the proper procedures for cooking times, temperatures and keeping sanitation.
“We take food safety very seriously,” Thayer said. “We go the extra mile.”
Whether it’s weekly or daily meetings, following cleaning checklists, or providing additional training, the restaurant owners said they make sure their employees know and understand the importance of regulations.
Loftis said his restaurants also use inspection reports for further training to ensure that team members understand what the violation was and train them so it isn’t repeated.
When violations are found and corrections need to be made, Thayer said they correct the problem as quickly as possible.
“If an inspector can point out how to do certain things better, I’m all ears,” he said.