Dirty Restaurants: Turning things around - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Dirty Restaurants: Turning things around

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MADISON (WKOW) -- By in large, Dane County kitchens aren't over-the-top filthy. More than 95 percent of restaurants pass a health inspection without fines when given a second chance.

Nonetheless, those that racked up violations in 2008 or 2009 included popular places, some you may never have heard of, and others no longer open for business.

One way or another, the Environmental Health Director for the Madison Dane County Public Health Department, Tommye Schneider, said training is key.

"I think there's a certain amount of turnover that occurs in restaurants," said Schneider. She cited a recent study that showed the average food handler in a Dane County kitchen works six months. The average manager works one to two years at any given restaurant.

"There's just a constant stream of people coming and going that need training," she said.

Which brings us to the case of Cancun Mexican restaurant on Madison's west side.

A list of kitchens that were fined in 2008 showed Cancun had the most violations (five in total, three critical) of any restaurant still in business today. 

Problems included sour cream ten degrees too warm; chicken, flan, and sour cream not labeled correctly, and a walk-in cooler condenser dripping and broken.

In June of 2008, a customer also complained to the health department of a plumbing problem in the women's restroom. For nearly two weeks, those in the bathroom were asked to throw toilet paper into the trash can instead of flushing.

Under the threat of closure, the problem was fixed.

What happened this year at Cancun after that was not so much employee turnover, but new owners, who bought the business this past summer.

While they wouldn't go on camera, said training, cleaning, and repairs are critical. The most recent inspection this year turned up nothing more than a broken tile in the kitchen.

Restaurants with new owners are inspected more often than others. After all, there are hundreds of potential state health codes they must follow.

"Maybe it's a new operator that hasn't been around very long, and they're still learning the business," said Schneider.

The case of Cancun, however, shows that it is possible for a Dane County kitchen to greatly improve from one year to the next.

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