On average, full-service restaurants in Williamsburg, York and James City counties had five food safety violations in 2018.
This is normal, according to Gary Hagy, the Peninsula’s environmental health manager; when inspectors visit food establishments, they’re looking for violations.
He said it’s important to remember some food establishments are subject to more frequent and more intensive types of inspections based on their determined risk. If inspectors inspect one restaurant more often than others, it will likely rack up more violations.
On average, each of the 175 full-service restaurants in the localities were inspected three times in 2018.
When inspectors walk into a restaurant, they look for how food is stored and whether it’s being stored at a safe temperature for a safe amount of time. Errors in food storage and preparation are violations, which could lead to foodborne illness.
But they also look for proper sanitation, general hygiene and employee health as part of routine inspections.
Types of food safety violations:
» Priority — The most severe and associated with foodborne illness such as improper temperature storing.
» Priority foundation — May lead to priority violations, such as broken thermometers.
» Core — The least severe, are not directly associated with potential foodborne illness and are often categorized as minor sanitary issues or problems with the physical structure of a facility.
Williamsburg’s Nawab Indian Cuisine had the most violations among full-service restaurants inspected in 2018. The restaurant had 33 violations, seven of them priority, which are associated with foodborne illness and considered the most severe. The restaurant was inspected three times: two routine and one follow-up.
Ashok Arora is the owner of Nawab, which has four locations in the state: Williamsburg, Newport News, Norfolk and Virginia Beach.
“They’re a partner in public health, in making sure our customers have nothing but a good experience,” Arora said. “In general, the things we see are improper storage, single-use containers being used twice and then also food storing 6 to 8 inches above the floor — these are common things. The smaller units can be out of temperature sometimes, but in general we try to make sure we stay on top of that.”
Arora said while the health department does have a job to do, he feels they have a good relationship with his restaurants and inspect fairly.
“When I compare it to different cities, for example, I have a restaurant in North Carolina, there sometimes they say things that don’t make sense,” Arora said. “In Virginia, in general, they are fair.”
York County’s Jimmy da Greek’s Deli came in at a close second with 31 violations, seven of them priority. The restaurant had two routine inspections. Of the priority violations, one included an employee failing to wash hands before engaging in food preparation and chemical spray bottles stored near straws.
Some of Nawab’s priority violations included inadequate cooling to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria, improper food holding temperatures and improper sanitation of food-contact surfaces.
Time and temperature violations, are the most common, according to Peninsula Environmental Food Specialist Nick Minter. Time violations may refer to food cooled or reheated too fast or not long enough, which gives the opportunity for bacteria to grow. Restaurants may have cold holding units that don’t work well or aren’t serviced enough. But to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria, cold food must be held below 41 degrees and hot food must be held above 135 degrees.
“We’ll get a lot of repeats (of those violations),” Minter said. “It’s hard. We can’t tell them that they have to spend money on a brand new unit, we just tell them that they have to get it working.”
Williamsburg’s Plaza Azteca and Trellis Bar and Grill each had nine priority violations in 2018, the most in the area. However, Plaza Azteca was inspected four times. Most of its violations were for improper cooling or heating of food and were temperature-holding related.
Trellis Bar and Grill, inspected five times, had violations for not discarding food in time and unsanitized food-contact equipment.
Trellis may be inspected more frequently because it conducts a specialized food preparation process called reduced oxygen packaging. In this process, food is vacuum sealed to help extend its shelf life. Because it can create risks, such as sealing in bacteria that grow without oxygen, it requires a food safety monitoring system.
Williamsburg’s Blue Talon Bistro had a total of 24 violations in 2018, five of them categorized as priority. Some of the core violations, which are the least severe, included improper hair restraints and an employee chewing gum during food preparation. The restaurant was inspected three times. Some of the priority violations included prepared food not properly dated and food in contact with gloves contaminated by a cracked egg.
“We’re working around it all the time, so when (the inspectors) come they can instantly spot things we’re not doing right,” Scott Hoyland, Blue Talon chef and Culture Cafe co-owner said. “There could be a light bulb out, there could be someone drinking from a container, you know nothing that’s major, but things we appreciate them pointing out to us.”
Several restaurants in Williamsburg had about 20 violations; all of them were inspected two to three times.
- Bangkok Garden — 27 violations: five priority, seven priority foundation and 15 core; two inspections
- Hayashi — 19 violations: three priority, four priority foundation and 12 core; three inspections
- Mama Steve’s House of Pancakes — 25 violations: four priority, seven priority foundation and 14 core; two inspections
- Oishii Japanese — 21 violations: five priority, four priority foundation and 12 core; three inspections
- Opus 9 Steakhouse — 20 violations: five priority, five foundation priority and 10 core; three inspections
Two of Hayashi’s priority violations included employee medication located at the sushi station and raw meat stored with the possibility of cross-contamination.
A handful of full-service restaurants that were inspected once or twice received no violations: York County’s Fraternal Order of Eagles, Cracker Barrel and Italian Delights, as well as 26 other establishments that include many hotels and chain restaurants.
Hagy said it can be a challenge to visit every establishment as needed.
“The past few years we’ve had some turn-over, we haven’t been fully staffed in quite some time,” Hagy said. “We definitely strive to hit the minimum required. Some we’d like to get there more often and it can be a struggle, yes.”
Want to know more?
The Virginia Department of Health maintains a database for the public to look up the public safety work of health inspectors. The inspection history of the state’s pools and hotels is available, as well as anywhere with a kitchen that serves food such as schools, restaurants, food trucks and nursing homes. You can look up inspection information by health district — Williamsburg, James City and York counties are part of the Peninsula District — online at healthspace.com/Clients/VDH/VDH/web.nsf/home.xsp.
Martin can be reached at (757)-243-3685, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @SaraRoseMartin.