Out of 93 restaurants surveyed in Blaine County, only 12 had so-called “critical” health violations in South Central Public Health District inspections in 2012—a number that a district staff member said reflects well on local restaurateurs.
Melody Bowyer, environmental health program manager for South Central Public Health District, said restaurants in the Wood River Valley typically receive very good scores on district health inspections.
“In general, food establishments are doing a good job, especially in the Wood River area,” she said. “Especially because of the clientele you have in the Wood River area, and you have more professional restaurateurs. They are at a more professional level.”
Bowyer said customers in the Wood River Valley expect high-quality service, and competition is fierce in the area—unclean or unprofessional restaurants just don’t last, and the restaurant owners who do last know to keep their standards high.
“They’ve been making a living this way and this is pretty much their business,” she said. “They want to make sure they’re doing a good job.”
And, Bowyer said, most are. Of the 13 restaurants that received “critical” violations in inspections over the past year, most were immediately and easily corrected.
Bowyer said a “critical” violation is defined as involving something that the Food and Drug Administration has determined could result in food-borne illnesses if not resolved. Reports state that critical violations can include improper food storage. Noncritical violations can include having chipped tile floors that can harbor bacteria or not having a thermometer in a refrigerator.
Bowyer said common critical violations include employees not taking proper precautions with handling food such as sandwiches or salads that will not be further cooked. Employees must use gloves when doing so, but Bowyer said that practice is not always enforced.
“Sometimes the employee may not be fully aware or not following the procedure,” she said.
Bowyer said lack of knowledge also contributes to food storage violations. Three Ketchum restaurants—The Kneadery, Perry’s and The Pioneer Saloon—were cited for not properly storing unpackaged and packaged food in such a way that would prevent cross-contamination.
Bowyer said that to comply with health codes, restaurants must store raw and cooked foods separately, or cooked food must be stored above raw food—especially when it comes to meat.
“You want to make sure the cooked product is always on top, so you don’t have raw juice dripping,” she said.
Meat must always be stored with seafood on top, then beef, pork and chicken below, in that order. However, sometimes employees do not understand that chicken, with its high bacterial count, must be stored in a way that prevents dripping, Bowyer said.
“Employees may not completely understand English,” she said.
Pioneer Saloon Manager Gerard Kelly said his violation was because he had stored produce with meat for a brief time during a particularly busy night in the middle of Pioneer Days—which offers discounted meals—when the health inspector happened to visit.
“The place was as crazy and as messed-up as this place gets, and [the inspector] understood that,” he said. “I had nowhere else to put [the produce]. Every nook and cranny was full.”
Kelly corrected the violation on site, as did Perry’s and The Kneadery. Kelly said the Pioneer is proud of its otherwise excellent health-inspection record.
“We have a really good relationship with the Health Department,” he said. “We’re really proud of our record.”
Keith Perry, owner of Perry’s, said his violation was similar, merely involving food stored on an incorrect shelf.
“Sometimes those [inspections] are good. They can let you remind employees how things should be done,” he said.
Similar storage problems occurred at Shorty’s Diner and La Costa Mexican Restaurant in Hailey, both of which received violations for not cooling food properly. The Sawtooth Club in Ketchum was also issued a violation for not storing food at a low enough temperature.
Idaho code states that cooked food that could be hazardous should be brought down to 41 degrees—refrigeration level—within four hours of being cooked. All three violations were immediately corrected.
Grumpy’s, a burger house in Ketchum, also immediately corrected a violation in August that involved not posting a warning to customers about increased risks associated with consuming “undercooked” beef—such as burgers ordered rare.
Wise Guy Pizza Pie in Hailey was cited for not having during a certain shift a manager who had completed an online or classroom food-safety class. Bowyer said that violation is typically not enforced unless the restaurant had other critical violations—which Wise Guy Pizza Pie did not, though two noncritical violations were issued for a missing thermometer in a food storage unit and a chipped floor. All violations have since been corrected.
Four restaurants—La Cabañita and Rickshaw in Ketchum, South Valley Pizzeria in Bellevue and Cowboy Cocina in Hailey—were told they were not adequately sanitizing dishes after cleaning. All four corrected the violation during the inspection.
Bowyer said that it is common in restaurants where commercial dishwashers are used for employees to forget to refill the bleach solution that is injected after a wash cycle, or something goes wrong with a pump that pushes the solution into the rinse water.
“Mostly, it has something to do with the concentration of the bleach solution,” she said. “Unless employees check these all the time, they might not catch it.”
Not all fixes are as easy as simply adding bleach solution, however. Three local restaurants were cited for noncritical “floor, walls and ceilings” violations, which means that all floors and walls need to be smooth and easy cleaned. The violation is noncritical, which means that it is unlikely to cause food-borne illness. Bowyer said that violation is common in older buildings.
“Maybe the surface is chipped a little bit and needs to be resurfaced, or the tiles are broken and it hadn’t been re-tiled,” she said.
Tom Nickel, owner of the Sawtooth Club, said that like the owners of most local restaurants, he has a good relationship with the Health District.
“When they come in, it’s relatively stress-free,” he said, adding that Head Chef Warwick Phillips typically meets and exceeds the department’s expectations.
“He’s pretty hard-assed,” Nickel said with a laugh. “He doesn’t let us get away with anything. They [Phillips and new chef Mike Diem] know what they are doing.”
Bowyer said that if violations are not fixed within 25 days, an “enforcement inspection” is carried out, in which a restaurant’s license can be revoked if the violations are not fixed. However, she said, that rarely happens.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time, people really want to stay in business and they really want to keep the place clean,” she said.
Kate Wutz: firstname.lastname@example.org
Health-code inspections are carried out by the South Central Public Health District on an annual basis. Restaurants are evaluated based on “critical” violations—ones that could cause food-borne illness—and non-critical, which violate what the district calls “good retail practice.” The restaurants cited in this story had at least one critical violation in 2012. Reports stated that most restaurants in the valley do not have violations in consecutive years. All violations have since been corrected.