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15 Finds Out: Inspection reports reveal habitual violators

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) - Every year the Allen County Health Department inspects every food establishment in the county at least once.

15 Finds Out requested the most recent inspection results for all of the food establishments in Allen County for both this year and last. That's a list of more than 2,400 inspections.

2014 Inspection Listing Report2015 Inspection Listing Report (YTD)

We first marked all of the establishments with five or more critical violations. The vast majority of restaurants had only a few or no violations.

"We have a lot of people who do a very good job and then we have outliers on the far extreme," Steve Niemoeller, the director of the Food and Consumer Protection Division at the health department, said.

After the first round of cuts, 62 establishments were left with at least five critical violations in 2014 and 59 places were left in 2015, but a pattern started to emerge. In 2014, 27.4 percent of those restaurants served Asian food and 38.9 percent were Asian establishments in 2015.

For the second round of cuts, we flagged the places with ten or more critical violations. That left nine restaurants in 2014, 55.5 percent of which were Asian restaurants. In 2015, ten places had ten or more critical violations, of which 80 percent were Asian establishments.

"Language barrier is the biggest issue there. The food code is written in English and printed in Spanish but those are the only two languages it's in that I know of. And the English is very legalese, it's not easy to read," Niemoeller said.

Restaurants with ten or more critical violations on the latest routine inspection in 2014:

(click on the restaurant to read the report)

Fortune Buffet: 12 critical violations on 11/12/14Great Wall II Buffet: 10 critical violations on 12/16/14Hall's Gas House: 10 critical violations on 5/19/14Hall's Triangle Park: 10 critical violations on 12/23/14House of Hunan: 11 critical violations on 8/21/14Liberty Diner: 11 critical violations on 12/22/14New Double Dragon Restaurant: 12 critical violations on 10/15/14New Great Wall Restaurant: 10 critical violations on 10/7/14Renaissance Restaurant: 11 critical violations on 6/26/14Restaurants with ten or more critical violations on the latest routine inspection in 2015:

(click on the restaurant to read the report)

China Buffet (Pettit Ave.): 10 critical violations on 3/3/15Chung King Express: 12 critical violations on 5/7/15Flanagan's Restaurant and Pub: 11 critical violations on 3/12/15Fortune Buffet: 11 critical violations on 5/7/15Great Wall II Buffet: 15 critical violations on 5/4/15House of Hunan: 13 critical violations on 5/21/15Kung Fu Buffet: 14 critical violations on 5/15/15Mahnin Asian Restaurant: 12 critical violations on 4/20/15New Double Dragon Restaurant: 12 critical violations on 5/5/15Summit Market: 11 critical violations on 4/27/15Establishments that had a violation for a pest issue in the latest routine inspection in 2014/2015:

(click on the restaurant to read the report)

Asian Market, Inc on 10/13/14Keliah's House of Pancakes on 10/7/14Uncle Lou's Steel Mill Tavern on 10/17/14Hoa Hung Oriental Grocery on 3/17/15Mahnin Asian Restaurant on 4/20/15Steak n Shake #230 (Illinois Road) on 9/8/15

Click here to search all the inspections for any food establishment in Allen County.

Not every Asian restaurant had a lot of violations. Many have zero. But if the majority of the high-violators are Asian restaurants and there's a known language barrier, where does the burden fall of bridging the gap?

"We feel it's a partnership. We want to do our part to ensure they understand, but they're also supposed to be compliant with the rules as well. It helps if we can both take ownership of that and meet together in the middle to reach that goal," Niemoeller said.

Of the restaurants with the most violations, four were on that list two years in a row with many of the markings repeat violations.

The New Double Dragon, Fortune Buffet, House of Hunan and Great Wall Two Buffet all had

more than a dozen repeat violations. Most of them were for improper food storage and food temperatures.

"We try to do our best to get everything clean," Jun Zheng, who's listed as the "person in charge" with the health department and the certified food handler at The New Double Dragon, said. "Sometimes it's just being busy, but we try to keep doing our best to clear everything out of the violation."

Fortune Buffet had 18 repeat violations in its 2015 inspection.

"That's probably due to new employment. We're getting new people, so that's why everyone is always making some mistakes all the time," Shan Jiang, the "person in charge" at Fortune Buffet, said.

House of Hunan declined an interview, but the man listed as the "person in charge" said he's working to fix the violations, it's just a lot to do all at once. Great Wall Two Buffet told 15 Finds Out to call the owner, who was out of state, but he didn't answer or return our calls to all three numbers listed.

Just because a restaurant has a lot of violations, doesn't mean it's unsafe to eat there.

"Code is written to prevent the potential of contamination not probability. The potential is there that is a health hazard, but very few things are such an immanent health hazard it would be unsafe to eat there," Niemoeller said.

Most critical violations are corrected on site while the inspector is still there. The inspector then also reviews each one to make sure the operators understand why it's a violation.

"They're doing good. They try to explain to us everything they have on the inspection and they try to explain to you step by step," Zheng said.

Jiang at Fortune Buffet agreed that the inspectors are helpful.

"Oh, yeah. Whenever the inspector comes, I always try to follow them and make notes and everything. You know we try to follow all the regulations and everything so hopefully you know just try to get everything straight up," she said. "Most of the time the repeat violations are like really little things, like they were out of hand soap or something at one station or maybe they removed the trash cans, stuff like that."

While violations are reviewed and inspectors come back to make sure the changes were implemented, 15 Finds Out also learned the health department is even going a step further now with a new program for in-person meetings with operators who are having trouble staying up to code.

"It's one thing to talk to an operator while they're in their establishment. They're busy. They're there working, so if we can sit across the table and it's just us talking, they can focus on getting a better understanding as well," Niemoeller said.

One of those meetings has already happened. Niemoeller wouldn't disclose who it was with, but said it went well.

"It was fantastic. We had a very positive meeting," he said.

The health department already uses a translator phone service during inspections, but it's looking at using in-person translators as well.

"I don't know that we can do that on inspections. It's just not cost-effective or efficient to do, but in those sit-down meetings or any other compliance issues that we'll have, that would be one resource we could use to ensure that understanding," Niemoeller said.

The hope is the one-on-one meetings will give enough education to avoid other enforcement steps, Mindy Waldron, the health's department's administrator, said in an emailed statement.

This is particularly important to me when we are dealing with a facility whose staff do not speak English as their first language.  In short, what we do is if there is a need to escalate education/enforcement discussions, we inform the operator that they must attend a mandatory discussion meeting at our office.  If interpreters are needed, we schedule and provide those for them at our cost.  We then have a lengthy discussion about the history of the establishment's "issues or violations" and ensure they truly understand the deficiencies.  We go over inspection reports, explain things in more depth, and discuss needed remediation steps and timelines.  This meeting is usually held with the operator(s), the inspector for that facility and the Food Division Director (and/or Asst Food Division Director as needed).  The Department Administrator participates in some cases as needed as well.  This allows for open discussion without the threat of penalty and provides for one last chance to turn their facility around before the next steps in enforcement occur (such as an administrative hearing, issuance of penalties, potential closure, etc.). - Mindy Waldron

While there is a point where a restaurant could be closed for being a habitual offender, Niemoeller said it's unlikely to get to that point.

"The final step in that process would be revocation of a permit, but I don't believe it's ever happened in Allen County," he said. "We want to do a lot of education before we get to that point. It depends on the operator too. If we're seeing positive change, then we'll work with them more toward that positive end of fixing that issue."


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