Health Department closes restaurant due to ‘major violations’

A Moab restaurant has been closed due to health violations.

On Friday, July 13, officials from the Southeast Utah Health Department conducted a risk-based inspection of the Szechuan Restaurant. They were responding to an unconfirmed report of food-borne illness that resulted in hospitalization. It was uncertain if the Szechuan was the source of the illness, but upon investigation of the restaurant they discovered a long list of health violations and gave the restaurant a failing grade. The restaurant was “closed due to many significant health deficiencies…major violations,” said the health department’s Environmental Health Director, Orion Rogers.

Typically, the health department would not contact the press about a restaurant closure. However, because this is the second time the Szechuan has been closed, and given the serious health risks posed by their violations, public awareness of the problem was deemed necessary. “There have been so many violations at this point; it’s important for the public to know what we’re finding,” Rogers said.

In 2015, the Szechuan received a failing grade for health code violations, and during the inspection many violations to building and fire codes were also found. They were able to make changes that put them back into compliance. This time, they were closed only for the health code violations. After making the necessary improvements years ago, the recent inspection revealed the health standards of the restaurant’s facility and practices had regressed.

It is not unusual for restaurants to have one to five violations. In comparison, the inspection report on the Szechuan provided by the health department found 25 separate violations. The major violations included employees smoking in the kitchen while prepping food, improper cleaning and washing of hands, lack of proper hot and cold holding temperatures, food not being in a safe and unadulterated condition, food contact surfaces not being properly sanitized, and food not being obtained from the proper source. Rogers said their most notable finding was “rotten chicken stored at 53.5 degrees.” The absolute maximum safe storage temperature is 41 degrees.

Other issues listed that are categorized as out of compliance rather than major violations include the restaurant not having a food safety manager; bleach sanitizer filling the food prep sink; fire suppression equipment being out of date; food being unlabeled and not having an expiration date; unidentified food containers; dirtiness of the floors, walls and nonfood surfaces; and lack of vermin proofing.

The health department scores their inspections using a similar method to the school system, with a failing grade resulting in closure. Restaurants start with 100 percent and each violation drops the score, depending on their severity. Major violations subtract four points. The Szechuan received a score of 56 percent.

The restaurant will have to keep its doors closed until it has had a chance to clean and get back into compliance. At that point, there will be a re-inspection. Rogers said the Szechuan will be “closed until all of the violations have been corrected and we feel that they will be able to adequately protect public health.” He added, “upon re-inspection, if they have not fixed it to the standard that we expect, we would keep them closed.” Aside from the loss of business, the multiple inspections could be costly for the eating establishment. “After the first initial re-inspection, all subsequent inspections… if they fail there’s a fine,” Rogers said.

ByBy Nathaniel Smith

The Times-Independent