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Food Court Eatery Inspections

Earlier this month, ABC 17 News reported on two restaurants at the Columbia Mall food court that were forced to temporarily close due to roaches and roach feces. That prompted us to dig deeper into health inspections at all restaurants at both Columbia Mall and the Capital Mall in Jefferson City.More than 80 percent of the restaurants we checked had violations that the health department considered “critical” and some are just fighting to stay open.The investigation began after Columbia/Boone County Health Department closed Famous Cajun Grill and Stir Fry 88 to clean up code violations. Those restaurants have been closed a total of five times in the last two years.Reports showed violations that could lead to food poisoning at nearly every food court restaurant in Columbia and Jefferson City. Officials say some of those restaurants are not getting any better and inspections are just a snapshot of how a restaurant operates.”It’s not just how people are preparing food and how their food is stored at, it’s how clean are the containers the food is stored in?” said Kala Gunier of the Columbia/Boone Co. Health Dept. “Are the floors, walls and ceiling in good repair?”At Columbia Mall, inspectors gave Charley’s Steakery critical code violations in the last ten months for having a dirty prep table and a broken storage container. Inspectors also found meat and vegetables without dates on them. The restaurant fixed the problems.Dairy Queen/Orange Julius also had undated food and were not using sanitizer at the time of the inspection. At Sbarro’s, inspectors found four critical violations, including one with cutting boards.ABC 17 News tried to contact the owners of those restaurants to find out what they’ve done to fix the problems, but no one returned our phone calls.The owner of Subway at both Columbia and Capital Mall, Jeff Offutt, did talk with ABC 17 News. Both locations had several critical violations in the past year, but Offutt says while they have had their issues, Subway has one of the safest internal systems in the industry. Offutt says his Columbia Mall location sprays for bugs twice as much as any of his other locations.It’s bugs, specifically roaches, that closed Famous Cajun Grill and Stir Fry 88 earlier this month. Those eateries were also hit with a long list of other critical health concerns. Stir Fry 88 has been shut down three times in the past two years.Inspectors say they’ve been caught storing raw food by ready-to-eat foods and food was found in Wal-Mart bags instead of proper containers. A franchise official said they are requesting the operator submit an action plan to clean up the restaurant. They tell me they want to work it out, but if they can’t, they will assess it.Famous Cajun Grill, the restaurant where a mother found a roach her food prompting our investigation, had a list of violations as well. They had squid in a walk-in refrigerator uncovered, and chicken undated. Food was also at risk for cross contamination, and with the roaches, they also found roach feces. In the past two years, they’ve been forced to shut down twice. Both restaurants share the same management.Columbia Mall management declined to go on camera, but did release this statement: “The safety and well-being of our guests are of paramount importance to us. Food vendors… have a responsibility to operate under the highest of health and safety standards. We support and cooperate fully with all health department inspections of food vendors. Any time a violation or infraction is discovered, we require and expect our food vendors to take immediate corrective action.”The health department has also been working with the restaurants recently shut down. They say frequent unannounced visits will continue as well as food safety education.”We have to be good educators as well,” said Gunier. “So part of that is trying to work with franchise and owner and the manager to turn the situation around.”While restaurants at the Capital Mall in Jefferson City had fewer critical violations, the mall also has few eateries. Stir Fry 88 has a location at the mall as well and fared well in recent inspections there. There were just several violations in the inspections, compared to dozens that were found at the Columbia location.Pretzel Time and Fuji Steak House had some critical violations in the past two years. Health inspectors say there are many factors that contribute to a low number of critical violations.”It’s a lot of maintenance to a restaurant, like I said, a lot of recording of temperatures and maintenance schedules of cleaning and equipment and supplies,” said Jefferson City Environmental Health manager David Grellner. “And it takes a good manager to run the operations and pass it on to employees.”Health officials urge people to contact them if they notice any violations at an eatery.

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