How do you know if a restaurant is a safe place to eat?
While a restaurant may look clean from the outside, most consumers don’t see what goes on in the kitchen. It’s the county health inspectors who get an expansive look into the inner workings of the restaurant.
When the inspectors observe violations of the California Health and Safety Code, they record them in an inspection report.
The Daily Titan examined the two most recent inspection reports of 55 restaurants in the area surrounding Cal State Fullerton. Between 2016 and 2018, 10 restaurants passed with no violations, 24 passed with either minor or major violations and 17 had violations that required reinspection. Four restaurants were closed for a single day due to critical violations that could not be immediately fixed.
During inspections, restaurants must fix the violations immediately or risk being shut down by the county health inspector, said Jessica Good, public information manager for the Orange County Health Care Agency, in an email.
Unlike Los Angeles County which posts “A, B, C” inspection grades for restaurants, Orange County uses three window seals issued to a restaurant based on its inspection results, Good said in an email.
According to California Health and Safety Code:
- Pass: The facility has met an acceptable level of compliance with the California Retail Food Code.
- Reinspection Due-Pass: Violations were observed and corrected during the most recent inspection. A follow-up inspection will be conducted to ensure continued compliance with the California Retail Food Code.
- Closed: The facility had a major critical violation that could not be immediately corrected. The health permit is suspended until the correction can be made.
Restaurants that needed reinspection
Out of the 17 restaurants near CSUF that were issued Reinspection Due-Pass seals, five needed to have two reinspections following a routine inspection.
On Feb. 7, 2018, the L & L Hawaiian Barbeque on State College Boulevard had four major violations and three minor.
Among its major violations, an employee dropped her gloves on the floor and threw them out, but did not wash her hands before putting on a clean pair. Another employee with long, artificial nails served food without wearing gloves. Cooked chicken was also being kept at 106 degrees Fahrenheit, which is below the minimum safe temperature of 135 degrees Fahrenheit for hot food, and a recycled bottle container was being stored on top of exposed cabbage.
During this inspection, the employee with long nails had been picking up a loose piece of food from the floor and was called out by the inspector, said Sonia Hwang, who has been the manager of L & L Hawaiian Barbeque for five years. However, that food was not intended to go out to customers, she said.
When L & L Hawaiian Barbeque was reinspected on Feb. 13, it once again had a major violation. An employee washed her hands in the food preparation sink, and dried food residue was found on a wall-mounted knife. Employee hats were also found stored in a foil tray.
On Feb. 21, the restaurant passed its second reinspection, but was still cited for keeping cooked chicken at 119 degrees Fahrenheit rather than 135 degrees Fahrenheit.
If temperatures fall into “the danger zone,” bacteria can grow quickly causing food poisoning and other foodborne illnesses. This danger zone is anything above 41 degrees Fahrenheit for cold foods and anything under 135 degrees Fahrenheit for hot foods, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.
Hwang said having an inspector around can make employees nervous, but she likes their visits because it gives the restaurant a chance to correct its mistakes.
Izakaya Takasei, a Japanese restaurant on Yorba Linda Boulevard, accumulated one major violation and six minor ones during its Dec. 15, 2017 inspection.
Its major violation came from one employee dropping a glove on the floor and putting it back on to continue preparing food. That employee was stopped and the inspector explained handwashing and glove changing requirements through a translator, according to the inspection report.
Devin Davenport, the front of house manager at Izakaya, said the presence of an inspector can lead to more mistakes due to nerves.
“I’m sure on a regular day they wouldn’t pick up a glove and reuse it. That’s really disgusting,” said Davenport, who has been a manager for two years.
Izakaya’s minor violations included having salmon, fish fillets, pork, chicken, tofu and fish balls in the cooler between 46 and 47 degrees Fahrenheit rather than 41 degrees Fahrenheit, the maximum safe temperature for cold food. It also did not have its sushi rice preparation procedure written out and did not properly tag the source of its live shellfish.
During its first reinspection five days later, Izakaya still had minor issues cited for keeping tofu, tomatoes, fish and pork cutlets in the cooler between 45 and 47 degrees Fahrenheit. It also still did not have a written sushi rice preparation procedure available.
Davenport said the shellfish labeling tag could have been misplaced, and the rice procedure may be an oversight by employees who “didn’t realize they had to have it written down” because the procedure done so frequently.
On its Dec. 26 reinspection, Izakaya had no violations.
On March 6, 2017, Ola received a citation for having a broken preparation cooler that was unable to keep food below 41 degrees Fahrenheit.
It received another major violation during its reinspection on March 14, 2017 because its cooler was still broken, but by the second reinspection on March 22, 2017, Ola fixed its cooler and passed with no violations.
Ola’s owner Stan Huang said their broken cooler was an “old” carryover from the Chinese restaurant previously at the location before Ola opened in 2010.
“When the health inspectors come, they just pick the right times to come. Everything will work fine, except for that day when they come in,” Huang said.
Since then, Ola had all new equipment for its grand reopening on the week of April 16, and Huang said they have not had any issues and are waiting for the next inspection.
On March 28, 2017 Fresh Griller received a citation for having broken reach-in and walk-in coolers.
Both of its coolers were still broken during the first reinspection on March 30, 2017 but by its second reinspection on April 7, 2017 the restaurant fixed its coolers and passed with no violations.
Fresh Griller representatives did not respond to multiple email requests for comment.
The only restaurant that needed a reinspection, without a major violation, was Oggi’s Fullerton on Chapman Avenue. It received four minor citations in its Jan. 20, 2017 inspection for issues including insects being found in an unused soda gun dispenser, garlic butter being stored at room temperature and glasses being stored near a sink without splash protection.
When Oggi’s was reinspected on Jan. 26, 2017, it received a major violation for not having sanitizer in its dishwasher, an issue that could not be fixed during the inspection. There were also repeat violations for not properly storing garlic butter and not having splash protection.
No violations were cited during the second reinspection on Feb. 1, 2017.
Oggi’s employees declined to comment for this report.
If a restaurant has issues deemed to be a “serious health hazard,” if not immediately addressed, the OC Health Care Agency can revoke its health permit and close it down until addressed, according to the agency’s website.
These violations include finding vermin in critical food areas, sewage overflows, lack of warm water and power outages.
Four area restaurants had one-day closures in the past two years.
The Starbucks on State College Boulevard was closed down on June 12, 2017 due to a sewage overflow, but was reopened later that same day after everything was cleaned up.
The Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches in the same complex faced a similar closure the same day, but also had minor violations related to sanitation cited during its Jan. 31, 2018 inspection. Its maximum warm water temperature at the prep handwash sink was measured at 96 degrees Fahrenheit. The sanitation violation was based on a container being stored in the prep area handwashing sink.
Both the Five Guys and the Miss Donut & Bagel on State College Boulevard also had its permits suspended. Five Guys had a clog in a floor sink on Jan. 17, 2017, while Miss Donut had insufficient hot water levels on May 9, 2017. Its water was measured at 73 degrees Fahrenheit, when the adequate supply of potable hot running water is at least 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf across the street from College Park was closed for a day when it had its permit suspended on May 4, 2017 for insufficient hot water levels. It had three of its sinks, the utensil sink, dump sink and handwashing sinks with measured temperatures between 88 to 92 degrees Fahrenheit. It also had minor sanitation violations when the inspector noticed coffee containers being stored in the front service handwashing sink and no soap dispenser available at the rear kitchen handwashing sink.
Both Coffee Bean and Miss Donut had hot water under 100 degrees Fahrenheit when at least 120 degrees Fahrenheit is required, according to the OC Health Care Agency.