Epicurean, Leo’s, The Tombs, and Bangkok Bistro were high-risk violators of D.C. health code in 2009

A couple of weeks ago, Vox got the Freedom of Information Act itch and decided to FOIA the Food Establishment Inspection Reports of some local restaurants. We obtained the two most recent health inspection reports from the D.C. Health Regulations and Licensing Administration for 13 area food establishments and perused them over Spring break to see if Georgetown students were eating safe.

What’d we find? Well for starters, you’d better lay off the Epicurean sushi.

The 13 restaurants we looked at netted 30 critical violations and 29 non-critical violations of the health code. Four establishments, Leo’s, Epicurean & Co., The Tombs, and Bangkok Bistro were listed on at least one report as “high-risk” establishments. All of them had critical violations and were given five days to correct their violations or else their licenses would not be renewed.

These four establishments accounted for 20 of the critical violations and 14 of the non-critical violations in all 26 inspections reports. Six critical violations that cannot be corrected on site result in the automatic closure of the food establishment. Owners are usually given five days to rectify critical violations and forty-five for non-critical violations or they risk closure.

Because of the volume of information our FOIA requests turned up, we’ve divided the results into two posts. Tomorrow, we’ll give you the details on the restaurants that were identified as a medium risk or had clean bills of health. And today, we’ll run an accounting of the high-risk establishments, including startling information on Dean & Deluca that the Washington Examiner turned up in their review of health code violators.

EPICUREAN & CO.

Epicurean & Co., shown above, was the biggest violator, and was the only restaurant listed as a “high risk” violator on both of the inspection reports Vox obtained. In late August of 2009, Epicurean earned five critical and four non-critical violations, all of which were corrected on site. They included:

  • Food was not properly “segregated, separated, [or] protected.” At the sushi station, eggs were stored in a way where they might contaminate other foods.
  • The restaurant was cited for unclean and unsanitized food contact surfaces.
  • The restaurant’s food marking and disposal methods were cited.
  • Food and non-critical surfaces were not properly maintained.

Earlier in the year, in February, Epicurean had fared even worse, and inspectors discovered 13 critical health code violations, only nine of which were corrected on site.

Epicurean was given five days’ notice to correct the remaining four critical violations. According to the assessment form, if six critical violations that cannot be corrected on site during the inspection are found, the result is the “automatic closure and suspension of [the] food establishment.” The critical violations included:

  • An employee was observed improperly washing his hands. He washed them with his rubber gloves on.
  • A sushi chef was observed handling raw salmon with bare hands.
  • The restaurant was not accurately keeping records of parasite destruction for its sushi products.
  • The restaurant was cited for unclean and unsanitized surfaces. Cutting boards were found to have unsmooth surfaces that could trap food particles or bacteria.
  • Food was not properly “segregated, separated, [or] protected.” Raw shrimp was found being stored above vegetables in the refrigerator, and partially cooked salmon was found being stored about fully cooked spare ribs and rice.
  • The restaurant was cited for improper “warewashing sanitization, and frequency methods,” which includes silverware. The final rinse temperature of the dishwasher was not hot enough.
  • Hot and cold foods were stored at improper temperatures. This appears to have affected dozens of foods, including salmon and several other types of fish, beef, chicken, and many other cuts of meat, and raw vegetables.
  • The restaurant’s food marking and disposal methods were cited. Chicken, tomato slices, and lettuce were unmarked.
  • There was no consumer food advisory for raw or undercooked food displayed at the sushi bar or on menus.

Epicurean also accrued seven non-critical violations, five of which were corrected on site. They were given 45 days’ notice to correct these, which included:

  • Unclean floors between cooking units.
  • Lack of handwashing signs on display at sinks.
  • A sushi chef wearing a bracelet.
  • A case of lids and trays being stored on the sushi bar floor.
  • Employees appeared to have been cited for their personal cleanliness.

LEO J. O’DONOVAN DINING HALL

In August, about a week before the first students began to arrive at campus, Leo’s was cited for one critical violation and two non-critical violations. For the critical violation, which was corrected on site, the inspector found that there was no sneezeguard over the bread in the self-serve area.

The non-critical violations had to do with cleanliness of serving areas.

“Clean all shelving, areas around and under all work stations, all buffet display units and all [equipment] services at upper and lower food service areas, main kitchen and all sub-kitchen areas, … and storage areas daily when needed to remove dust and dried food particles,” the report instructs. “Clean floors where needed [throughout] facilities (on all levels), in corners and under, around, and behind all [equipment].”

A subsequent health inspection report found no violations.

BANGKOK BISTRO

The FOIA officer who responded to Vox‘s request only returned one health inspection for Bangkok Bistro, an October 2008 inspection report. But it suggested that Bangkok had recently been cited for critical violations, as it indicated that Bangkok had been given five days’ notice to correct them or risk closure.

“Five days’ notice abated,” the report reads. “Old refrigerator has been replaced with new one; old cutting boards has been replaced with new one [sic]; cleaned inside ice machines; foods are below 45 degrees.”

THE TOMBS

In September, The Tombs was given a critical violation for not having “food contact surfaces cleaned and sanitized,” specifically, a “dipping well” in the kitchen, but the one violation alone was enough for inspectors to finger the restaurant as a high-risk establishment. A March inspection found one non-critical violation; there was not enough light over the stove.

DEAN & DELUCA

Bonus violator! The Washington Examiner did a citywide survey that covered hundreds of restaurants that were inspected in the last three months and found that Georgetown’s own Dean & Deluca was in the top 10 violators (out of 1,900 restaurants with violations between November 1, 2009 and February 1, 2010) in the District, with seven critical violations.

Voice news will have more on Thursday. Tune in tomorrow to find out how Wisey’s, Booey’s, Tuscany, and Corp establishments fared on their most recent health inspections!

Photo of Epicurean & Co. by Jackson Perry.

10 Comments on “Epicurean, Leo’s, The Tombs, and Bangkok Bistro were high-risk violators of D.C. health code in 2009

  1. Isn’t it a sign that ALL of these places get dinged by health inspectors. I’ve been involved with health inspections in DC. They’re nonsense. Some of the things inspectors pick on are absurd and formalistic rules that don’t reflect the cleanliness or safety of a restaurant, but merely their compliance with overly strict but completely mindless regulations.

  2. “Tomorrow, we’ll give you the details on the restaurants that were identified as a medium risk or had clean bills of health.”

  3. Im usually all for the Ron Swanson way of doing business, but when it comes to health and safety standards I’d rather have too many rules than too few. While a sushi chef wearing a bracelet is not a big deal 99.99% of the time its that .01% that kills you – or at least gives you norovirus.

  4. My father has run inspection services departments for both urban and rural areas for 30+ years. Naturally, much of this stuff has come up over dinner conversations etc although I’m no expert. I know from anecdotes that the vast majority of restaurants, especially those w/ buffets and food bars often have these type of violations. In reading these violations, they seem pretty low level, even the high risk ones.

    The point of the high standards and frequent inspections isn’t to penalize or shut down establishments but to ensure compliance with the rules. It is a good thing that these establishments are being cited and then complying.

  5. @ Joe C.
    I agree that it’s great to have rules and then just get places up to compliance. That’s totally reasonable.

    But I hate it that every single year, the Voice and Hoya inevitably report these things like it’s “investigative reporting,” and they do it in a way that condemns and casts aspersions on the restaurants/food vendors.

  6. i think the bigger issue is that D.C. Health is using phrases like “critical violations” and “high-risk.” That makes it sound like these violations are serious. If they are serious, I want to know about it – from the Voice, the Hoya, or whoever wants to take the time to do the research and FOIA requests.

    If these violations aren’t serious (and we have evidence from Joe C’s dad’s anecdotes that they aren’t) then maybe there needs to be an overhaul of the D.C. Health classification system. Similar systems like the Homeland Security color scale are already being revised…

    It seems like restaurants are just cleaning up one time after the inspectors leave and then committing violations until the next inspection, year after year. That doesn’t really sound like compliance to me. Maybe a little bad press will get them to clean up their act for real.

  7. Be careful, you’ve misinterpreted the concept of “risk” here. “High risk” means that the restaurant is more likely to have potential contamination–Epicurean qualifies because it handles raw food, for example. Higher risk establishments are inspected more frequently than lower risk establishments to manage the risk. So a squeaky clean Epicurean with no violations would still be high risk.

    The severity of the violation is the critical/non critical piece. This is what you ought to be looking at.

    See the food code here: http://hrla.doh.dc.gov/hrla/cwp/view,a,1385,q,572134.asp

  8. @Mike
    thanks for clearing that up – actually makes a lot of sense.

    still though, if people are saying “the vast majority” of restaurants regularly have “critical” violations, something is missing either in D.C.’s code definitions or in the city’s compliance processes. “High risk” establishments especially shouldn’t be regular critical violators.

  9. Pingback: Vox Populi » Seven Georgetown-area restaurants cited as medium-risk health code violators in 2009

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