Restaurant inspections in Fresno County: How many were shut down in October?

Only one restaurant was ordered to close last month by Fresno County health inspectors, but not because of an infestation of roaches or rodents, faulty refrigeration or any of the other usual – and unsettling – reasons.

Lola’s Ricos Tacos on East Ventura Street in southeast Fresno was already closed, it turns out, by an Oct. 17 fire that gutted the inside of the building. When restaurant inspectors with the county’s public health department made a follow-up visit on Oct. 21, the gas, water and electric service to the building had been shut off, and the restaurant will remain closed until the owners can submit plans to the health department and make the needed repairs.

Through the first 10 months of 2019, the number of Fresno County restaurants closed for health and safety violations such as infestations, sanitation problems or other problems is less than half what it was for the same period last year. So far, 23 restaurants have been shut – most for as little as a few hours, others for a day or so until problems could be fixed – compared to 52 in the first 10 months of 2018.

Four restaurants were closed in October 2018, compared to just the one last month.

Inspectors typically make routine, unannounced visits to restaurants or other food facilities three to four times a year. That, officials hope, is enough to keep places on their toes and maintaining clean conditions in their kitchens. There are about two dozen inspectors to cover the entire county, and in addition to restaurants, some inspect other facilities such as tattoo or body art parlors, public swimming pools and other sites.

When inspectors visit a restaurant, commissary, food truck or any other food-serving site, there is a lengthy – and detailed – list of more than 50 things that fall under their scrutiny. They include whether the manager and all of the workers have the required food safety or food-handling certifications, the hygiene of individual employees, ways to keep cold food at or below 41 degrees and hot food above 135 degrees, use of proper sterilization for counters, utensils and cookware, keeping food protected from contamination, overall cleanliness, proper drainage of sinks and floor drains, keeping the restrooms stocked with supplies, and whether the site is operating with the proper permit.

Usually, if an inspector finds an issue, it’s the kind of thing that can be solved on the spot – things like having enough bleach in the water used to wipe down food-preparation counters, replacing lids on food containers in the walk-in refrigerator, resupplying paper towels in the restrooms or reminding employees to wear gloves or hairnets and to wash their hands.

Other violations are the kinds of things that become stomach-turning for customers: infestations of rodents, cockroaches or other insects; refrigerators that don’t keep cold food cold enough and steam tables that don’t keep food hot enough to inhibit bacteria; a lack of hot water for dishwashing or handwashing, or plumbing problems including backed-up drains and toilets.

Although inspectors make their periodic visits, members of the public frequently report problems they’ve seen at restaurants, prompting inspections to follow up. Among the common complaints from the public are watching an employee handle cash and then prepare food without washing their hands first, or not using gloves. Sometimes the issues are more serious, including complaints about getting sick after eating at a restaurant, sightings of insects or rodents, or backed-up plumbing in a restaurant’s restrooms.

Fresno County makes its restaurant inspection reports publicly available online at www.fresnohealthinspections.org.

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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.