How can repeat low performers stay open when they're constantly cited for the same critical violations over and over?
From temperature violations to cross contamination and even insect infestations, each week we dish out the good and bad news when it comes to the cleanliness of Lubbock restaurants.
For the past 15 years, viewers have tuned into Food for Thought to see who's keeping clean and who needs to clean up, but it seems like some restaurants continue to be cited for the same violations.
So how does this keep happening? And why are these places still allowed to serve food?
We sat down with Lubbock's environmental health coordinator Stevan Walker to find out.
"If the kitchen's busy it's going to get dirty, but they need to know when and how to clean different areas of that kitchen," Walker said.
He and his team of inspectors are in charge of the dozens of health inspections each week.
There are currently more than 1,500 active food permits in Lubbock, and those aren't just restaurants. That includes mobile units, daycares, hotels, convenience stores - just to name a few.
Each establishment falls into one of four categories based on their risk assessment.
A simple convenience store would be a category 1 - meaning they will have at least one mandatory inspection within a 12-month period.
Most buffets would be a 4 - with a minimum of four surprise inspections a year.
That's why you see some places inspected more often than others, but inspections don't stop there. The health department takes complaints very seriously. Each complaint then becomes another inspection.
So, what do inspectors do prior, during and after an inspection?
"Prior to their inspections, they're going to review their past inspections. So, if they're looking over their past inspections and they're conducting their inspection and marking them for the same thing on that inspection you're going to see re-inspection or repeat violation," Walker says.
And that hits the facility where it hurts. A repeat violation costs the establishment a $90 fee every time. Violations concerning food temperatures or cross contamination must be taken care of immediately, but Walker says that doesn't mean they're in the clear.
"(The inspectors) go back the next day, sometimes two or three days in a row to make sure that whatever caused that violation has been corrected," he said.
If that doesn't happen, the establishment can be issued a Class C misdemeanor, which is a ticket with a fee set by the municipal court.
"If they continue to have problems, they're going to see an inspector more often. Instead of every three months being in that facility, we have some that they're going to be in there every month."
Walker says restaurants aren't in business to make people sick, but education is key. He says it all falls back on the owner or whoever holds the certified food manager certificate.
"Their responsibility is to train the rest of their staff in proper food handling techniques."
The city offers training to all restaurants at no charge.
"We send inspectors in and train the staff on things that happen in that facility, and we've seen a marked-reduction in the number of violations in facilities that have taken advantage of this."
Walker says, as long as the restaurant is correcting their violations, they're not going to be shut down. He says they are in place to help facilities comply with state codes.
But some violations are deemed an imminent health threat, and those will close a restaurant immediately. Those include: sewage backing up in a facility, no hot water or a rodent or insect infestation.
Once the violation is corrected it must be verified by a licensed plumber or licensed pest control specialist.
The facility must then be re-inspected; once given the ok by the health department they can re-open.
If you have a complaint or feel you became ill because of something you ate at a Lubbock restaurant, you can contact the Environmental Health department at (806) 775-2928.
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