A bad health inspection one year; closed the next - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Dirty Restaurants Part III: A bad health inspection one year; closed the next

Posted: Updated:

MADISON (WKOW) -- If nothing else, restaurant health inspections in Dane County are thorough.

From faucets, to cooling foods, to rodent control, there are literally hundreds of state codes that could be broken.

A team of 16 inspectors in Dane County focuses most on what could cause a food-borne illness when they look through more than 2,500 licensed food vendors each year.

"Whether or not the floor is dirty probably doesn't factor into whether a food-borne outbreak might happen at the establishment," said Tommye Schneider, who heads the environmental health division of the Public Health Department of Madison and Dane County.

The kitchen at Quaker Steak and Lube in Middleton appeared clean as our cameras followed an inspector.

Others didn't fare so well. While the public health board hasn't pulled a restaurant's license in 15 years, there appears to be a correlation between health code violations and struggling restaurants. An examination of inspection records in 2008 show many businesses with the most violations or the most fines are now permanently or temporarily closed.

Among the list of restaurants that were fined in 2008 was La Queretena on Northport Drive. It was fined for the second-most violations last year at eight, five of which were critical. Restaurants are fined, and cases referred to a prosecutor, if a problem isn't corrected by a scheduled re-inspection date.

At La Queretena, problems included cooking with a propane burner, and bags of cheese and corn mislabeled as "meat." The business is now closed, replaced with a small Mexican-themed grocery store.

Taqueria Guanajuato on Midvale Boulevard appeared to hold the distinction for most violations in 2008. Late that year, inspectors fined it for more than a dozen infractions, including raw beef 11-degrees too warm, dirty garbage bins unprotected from rodents, and mops so filthy they were soiling walls and equipment. Health records indicated the business closed in 2008, though a spot check showed the Midvale location open for customers. 27 News has been unable to contact the current owner for comment.

What is now the former site of JT Whitney's brew pub also racked up a relatively high number of health code violations with three. In June of 2008, inspectors found a number of cold ingredients that were too warm. After weeks of trial and error, owner David Bookstaff and an inspector realized it was from a faulty refrigerator. The machine was replaced two months later, the warm food thrown away.

The restaurant, however, closed about seven months ago. The site is about to re-open under new ownership.

For the new business, the annual health inspection will be as complete. No leniency allowed.

"We're not ruining their business," said Schneider. "We're not supervising their employees, so once a year is enough to gauge, are they doing okay? Do they understand the basics of food safety rules?"

Most restaurants that are fined typically are only charged a couple hundred dollars. Only three restaurants in 2008 were ordered to pay more than $1,000. That included Taqueria Guanajuato, the collective Rice Cafe locations by Torres Food Company, and the China 1 Buffet on Grand Canyon Drive in Madison.

There are restaurants that can fail one year and succeed the next. Find out which one turned things around next week.

Email Carl Agnelly at cagnelly@wkowtv.com

Follow Carl Agnelly on Twitter.


Powered by Frankly