FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Reviewing health inspection reports for restaurants in Allen County revealed most establishments have at least a few critical violations.
“Things we’re pointing out today and things you may have seen on the reports noted as critical, are important because they increase the chance of a foodborne illness or are more likely to cause a foodborne illness as opposed to the non-critical violations,” Steve Schumm, the assistant director for the Food and Consumer Protection Division at the Allen County Health Department, said.
From how food is stored in the refrigerator, to how it’s prepared, cooked and served, there are a lot of opportunities to break the health code.
15 Finds Out put a home kitchen to the test and Schumm observed while Joe Carroll prepared stir fry for dinner.
“One thing you’ll notice is he’s starting with celery first, a ready-to-eat food product. He’s preparing that before the raw meat items and that lessens the chance for cross-contamination,” Schumm said.
Joe didn’t wear gloves while he chopped the vegetable, which was fine because it was going to be cooked. If the celery was going to be eaten raw, that would have been a violation in a restaurant.
While Joe got ready to cut the meat, the knife fell on the floor. At first, he put the knife back on the cutting board, but did end up avoiding a violation.
“As soon as that knife hit the floor, we made sure it wasn’t reused. He may have set it back on the counter, but it didn’t come in contact with food,” Schumm said.
Joe did a good job of washing and keeping his hands and equipment clean throughout the cooking phases. He even used paper towels to dry his hands instead of cloth ones.
“In a commercial facility, you wouldn’t use a common towel, especially after washing hands,” Schumm said.
Once the cooking started, Schumm paid close attention to making sure the meat was cooked to the proper temperature.
Ground or cut beef has to be cooked to 155 degrees.
“Once it’s cooked, if it goes to a holding station, we check that the hot food is kept hot at 135 degrees or above. Cold food has to be kept at 41 degrees or below,” Schumm said.
Another potential trap for cross-contamination would be the actual food thermometer.
“Maybe you’re not hitting the minimum temperature and you maybe go to a different product or take the temperature of a ready-to-eat food, you could cross-contaminate getting raw stuff on the thermometer and then reintroducing that to the food product,” Schumm said.
15 Finds Out’s camera did catch a violation when Joe pushed some meat back into the serving dish. Bare hands on ready-to-eat food is a critical violation in a restaurant and the food would have to be thrown out.
A common violation in food establishments is an employee’s drink cup on a prep counter. Joe had a used coffee cup near by, but it wasn’t on the same counter where he was cooking.
“Imagine this cup here was on this surface, he could bump it and it could go onto this celery,” Schumm said.
Another violation that shows up on a lot of restaurant reports is storing raw meat or eggs above ready-to-eat food in the refrigerator.
“The way the residential units are designed, you’ll see produce on the bottom. It’s not as much of a threat because it’s contained in these drawers, however, if there was some leaking of raw juices or let’s say they somehow got into [the produce bins], and I’ve had that happen when you’re thawing something out, then you’d have contamination,” Schumm said.
While restaurants are required to have date markings on any food products they make themselves, like dressings or salads, Schumm recommends that you don’t keep homemade foods more than a week in the refrigerator. If something has been sitting out at room temperature for more than four hours, it should be thrown out.
The bottom line, Schumm said, is that while restaurants are held to a high standard because they prepare food for the public, it’s a good idea to keep the health code in mind when you cook at home too.
“Keeping hot food hot, cold food cold, and keeping an eye on how long it stays out at room temperature. If you are going to thaw food out in a refrigerator, make sure it’s in a bowl and contained so juices don’t get on ready-to-eat food. Protect your equipment and keep it clean. And have good personal hygiene. Know when to wash your hands and if you’re sick, don’t prepare food for anyone else,” he said.