Inspectors, eateries work to keep restaurant's facilities flawless

Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Tenia Porch, Environmental Public Health Specialist, conducts a routine inspection at Break-a-Ways in downtown Cape Girardeau. (Submitted photo)

The list is long -- local restaurants, taverns, school cafeterias, grocery stores, daycare centers, lodging establishments, VFW posts, snack bars at golf courses, and kitchens at churches and jails.

But you'll be glad once you know why. If food is prepared there, those places are subject to inspections by an environmental public health specialist from the Cape Girardeau County Public Health Center.

Shirley Renaud, an environmental clerk with the health center, said that from Jan. 1 to Oct. 31, there have been 528 inspections at 409 establishments.

Before a new restaurant can open, the owners submit a plan to the city and the health department, she said. The city reviews the plan for things like fire code violaations and for sanitation issues.

"We make sure the sinks are where they should be, that refrigeration units will be at the correct temperature, that cleaning materials are sufficient ... there are a lot of things we check before they are approved to open," Renaud said.

Inspectors recently worked with Pizza Hut to open a restaurant on Sprigg Street near the university, she said.

Joe Ewers, Pizza Hut's market supervisor for Southeast Missouri, said working with the health department has been a positive experience.

"It's really been fantastic," said Ewers. "Of course, we know what we're doing because Pizza Hut has been around a long time, but the inspectors in Cape are very good people. They OK'd everything and gave us some brochures that we'll have our employees read, then we'll keep the brochures on file."

Lynn Lancaster, an environmental public health specialist, conducts many inspections for the health department. He said the health specialists are deputized agents of the Missouri Department of Health and follow the regulations of the Missouri Food Code.

"We don't want an inspection to be adversarial, like we go in with guns blazing," said Lancaster. "Everybody's polite to everybody else."

Inspectors look at the employees to make sure they are dressed clean and have their hair back and "don't have runny noses," Lancaster said. "And we check the physical plant for cleanliness and absence of insects and rodents. We look at procedures for cooking and storing food."

Lancaster said businesses under construction often call the health department and request advice. He said an inspection is done just prior to opening and there is a follow-up inspection three to four weeks later.

"Then we'll revisit the business about once every nine months, " he said, adding that an inspection generally takes 30 to 40 minutes, but it can take an hour if the restaurant is especially large.

The Cape Girardeau County Public Health Center has a Web site -- www.cgcohealthdept.com -- that lists hundreds and hundreds of businesses that are food-related. Visitors can access their favorite place to eat or buy food and learn when inspections were conducted and what the results were.

Olive Garden, the latest major restaurant to open in Cape Girardeau, was last inspected May 11. The Web site indicates a clean bill of health -- no critical violations and no non-critical violations.

Panera Bread has been inspected four times since it opened late last year. Of violations noted, four were non-critical and one was critical. The critical one was there was no hot water at a sink. The report noted the violations were in the process of being fixed.

At Burger King in Jackson, an inspection on March 15 turned up three non-critical violations -- all of which were corrected on the spot. One involved a syrup spill in a soda storage room.

Managers at the three restaurants said they work closely with the inspectors and there is no ill will.

Debbie Stoverink recently opened Jackson Sports Grill in Jackson. She said she wants to comply with inspections not just because it's the law, but because "it's just a good business practice to keep it done right."

At CiCi's Pizza in Cape Girardeau, manager Gerit Brouwer said health inspectors stop by the eatery on Broadview every couple of months. He said the inspectors are very cordial and if they find a violation it is always a small one that can be immediately corrected.

"We've never gotten a critical violation," said Brouwer. "We've never gone down a bad road with them. One of the inspectors used to be in the restaurant business himself so he knows the ins and outs of the business. He offers good advice."

Brouwer said that when inspectors say they will return on a certain date, they usually show up a little earlier.

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