Tahlequah Daily Press

January 29, 2013

Restaurant checklist

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — When people go out to lunch or dinner, they expect to sit down to a clean, well-ordered environment that ensures their food is being prepared under optimum conditions.

A customer’s first impression is tied to basic items on a checklist a restaurant inspector marks off when visiting each location. Is the bathroom clean, with plenty of hand soap, paper towels and toilet paper? Can you count on your counter server not to cough in your face as he takes your order?

The number of times am inspector visits a restaurant depends on how it prepares and presents food, or whether it is offering commercially prepackaged items commonly found in convenience or grocery stores, said Cherokee County Health Department Public Health Specialist Josh Daily.  

“It’s going to be different for different facilities. Some require as many four inspections a year, while we have some that require two inspections. There are some that require only one inspection,” Daily said.

Local public health specialists do not have to inspect detention centers, jails, prisons or nursing homes, as other public health divisions oversee that responsibility.

The type of information and number potential violations stems from the specific public audience being served in a facility.

“And it’s going to depend on what kind of operation the facility is offering. Some do strictly prepackage commercially processed foods, while some could have full food service,” Daily said. “You know whether they have fryers and cookers in the back, and if they’re holding food hot and holding food cold.”

A major consideration – especially when comparing restaurants in one county to those in another – is the size of the facility.

“We look at what kind of operation are they doing, how much opportunity is there for violations to be found,” he said. “Obviously, you’re going to have more violations the more opportunity there is for them.”

When a facility receives a violation, it is notified and given an opportunity to address the problem. Subsequent and frequent health inspection checks then take place.

“I would say in my experience, restaurants seem to be very eager to learn what they are doing wrong, and if they’re doing something wrong, what can they do to correct the problem,” Daily said.

Aside from other specific guidelines and regulations checked, some fundamental areas Daily takes note of include employee hand-washing, food cross-contamination, employee health, and food storage temperatures.

The last two inspections conducted at Charlie’s Chicken revealed no violations  reported, according to the Oklahoma State Health Department website, and store Manager Junior Sierra said Chicken strives to create an environment that is always clean.

“I always try to establish the mentality with the employees to treat it like it’s your home. You want to be here, and you want it be clean and things to look good. The only way you can make it look good is to keep things up to par,” Sierra said. “As far as food, we always make sure it’s kept at the right temperature. Even just storing it before we cook it, we make sure it stays in the right temperature zone so it doesn’t reach that bacteria stage.”

That’s especially critical with chicken, he said, and also with fresh vegetables.

“That’s what we deal with every day. We have gigantic cabinets that we store the chicken in once it’s cooked, and we keep it at 180 degrees. That’ll keep the temperature above the 133-degree threshold that it has to maintain,” Sierra said. “By doing that, not only do you provide a good product, but it’s a quality product – all the essentials you need to run a good business, as well as to keep everything up to code for health inspections.”

At the end of each day, and if at least 1 gallon of vegetables remain, Charlie’s Chicken will usually save those items to be used the next day, said Sierra.

“We bring those down to 70 degrees and then put them in the cooler. Then once in the cooler, it’ll reach the 40-degree maintaining level,” he explained. “Then in the morning, when we bring them back out, we’ll reheat them to 180 degrees and then we’ll serve them at the 160-degree temperature. That’s what’s required, and that’s the same [process we follow] with the cobbler.”

Charlie’s doesn’t reheat any chicken for the next day, and that same procedure is followed by most reputable restaurants.

“Our chicken is always cooked fresh. If we do reheat chicken, it’s just for things like if we make it with chicken and dumplings, but it’s kept in the cold unit,” Sierra said. “That way it stays at a nonbacterial level where we can reuse it the next day for the dressing or the chicken and dumplings. All that’s very carefully watched. If it’s been reheated the day before and we still have some left over at noon, we’ll toss that out.”

Per the state website, some other local or area restaurants that did not receive a violation upon the last inspection by the public health specialist include Akropolis, The Twig, El Zarape, New China Super Buffet, Jimmy’s Egg, Asian Star, CherryBerry, Rib Crib, the Subway location in Park Hill and the Hulbert Subway location. (This is not a complete list.)

Other facilities either reported violations for issues like cross-contamination or temperature violations for cold hold of food. Inspection reports were not available many area restaurants or businesses.


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