Violations closed 32 Fresno County restaurants since mid-2018. See the list

Almost three dozen restaurants, cafes and eateries across Fresno County were closed for at least a few hours – and sometimes for more than a day – since mid-2018 after health inspectors discovered violations that warranted shutting the places down on the spot until the problems could be fixed.

In most instances, the problems were a faulty water heater or problems with refrigerators not keeping cold food cold enough.

But in others, infestations of cockroaches and other pests prompted inspectors with the Fresno County Department of Public Health to close a place.

Among the 32 restaurants on the list, three were temporarily closed for a few days due to cockroach infestations: Med Wraps Cafe in Fresno; Country Waffles on North Blackstone Avenue in Fresno; and China One Express in Coalinga.

Vermin problems were found at three Fresno restaurants: a Little Caesar’s Pizza restaurant on East Kings Canyon Road in July; the Curry House on North Blackstone Avenue in August; and the Korea Mart on East Shaw Avenue in November.

Only two restaurants were closed twice by inspectors in Fresno County since last July: Poki Bowl Express on East Kings Canyon Road in southeast Fresno and Country Waffles on North Blackstone Avenue.

Poki Bowl Express had recurring issues with hot water – or, specifically, a lack of hot water, a major violation of health codes. In November, an inspection found that the water heater could only muster a temperature of 104 degrees, well shy of the required 120 degrees. Two days later, with the plumbing repaired, the restaurant reopened.

In another inspection in February, the hot water tap was only reaching 78 degrees at Poki Bowl Express. The inspector found that a 20-gallon residential water heater had been installed without permits, and once again ordered the restaurant closed. By the next day, an after-hours inspection showed hot water was flowing at the proper temperature and the inspector allowed the restaurant to reopen.

The Country Waffles location on North Blackstone was found to have a cockroach infestation, as well as an expired fire-suppression system, during a September inspection. It reopened two days later. A subsequent inspection in February closed the restaurant for a hot water system that only reached 65 degrees, but it reopened later the same day.

The longest closure reported by the county health department was at Pedro’s Mexican Food, on Fresno Street between Belmont Avenue and Divisadero Street in central Fresno. On July 19, 2018, a routine inspection showed that refrigerator units were not keeping food cold enough, in addition to other cleanliness issues. The restaurant didn’t reopen until Aug. 20, about a month later.

Click a marker on the map below to see details for that location, including the inspection/closure date, reopening date, and reasons for the closure. Zoom in or out for a closer or broader look or move the map to look at other areas of Fresno County. Map by Tim Sheehan / The Fresno Bee

Inspectors typically make routine, unannounced visits to restaurants or other food facilities four times a year, said Wayne Fox, director of the county’s Environmental Health Division which oversees restaurant and food safety inspections. And if customers are concerned by conditions they see in a restaurant and report a complaint, inspectors will respond to those reports as well.

Usually, if inspectors find something amiss, it’s something that can be remedied immediately – for example, reminding employees to wear gloves or hairnets or to wash their hands, adding some bleach to the solution used to wipe down counters and tables, covering up food containers in the walk-in refrigerator, or resupplying paper towels or toilet paper in the restrooms.

But if an issue takes more time or represents an immediate threat to public health and it cannot be fixed on the spot, inspectors can order a restaurant closed for however long it takes to fix it.

Fresno County posts its inspection records online at fresnohealthinspections.com.

Fox and Stephanie Kahl, a supervising environmental health specialist for Fresno County, said that both independent operators and chain restaurants can have excellent track records in compliance with health codes and performance in the unannounced inspections, while others are a little more hit-and-miss.

“You’d like to believe that as a franchisee, you’d get better support from the corporate office, but sometimes you don’t,” Kahl said. “The bottom line is, it boils down to that individual facility operator.”

Fox said some chains stand out, including Panda Express or In-N-Out Burger. “Those places, they aren’t franchised, and we don’t have any problems with those,” Fox said. “Those are very high quality, their staff is very well trained, and those are real top-notch organizations. And then we’ve got our local chains, and those become a little more dependent on how in touch their managers are.”

“Sometimes it depends on the individual manager of that particular restaurant,” Fox added. “You might have a chain where one person owns eight or nine outlets in Fresno. So they have a 19-year-old kid as the manager; is that the right person for that? In some cases it is, and sometimes it isn’t.”

Tim Sheehan: 559-441-6319, @TimSheehanNews

Related stories from Fresno Bee

Lifelong Valley resident Tim Sheehan has worked in the Valley as a reporter and editor since 1986, and has been at The Fresno Bee since 1998. He is currently The Bee’s data reporter and covers California’s high-speed rail project and other transportation issues. He grew up in Madera, has a journalism degree from Fresno State and a master’s degree in leadership studies from Fresno Pacific University.