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Restaurant inspections keep dining safe

SKYLER BELL, Of the Record staff

She strikes fear in the hearts of the rebellious. She uses high tech-gadgets like lasers. She can close down a business with the flick of her wrist. She’s the County Health Inspector.

Leslie Freeman, whose proper title is Environmental Health Scientist for the Summit County Department of Health, performs 35 restaurant inspections from Park City to Kamas every week, and also teaches a food handlers’ permit class once a month in Park City and once every two months in Kamas.

Restaurants in Park City each undergo two surprise inspections per year, unless the business is seasonal, then it only has to endure one. Freeman said she calls catering businesses to see when they’re working, but usually asks for a week’s schedule so it’s still a surprise. But Freeman and Summit County do it a little different than in the movies.

"We don’t score our inspections in Summit County," she said. "If there’s a violation then we cite it and, if it’s bad enough, we tell the restaurant they have to correct it by a certain time or we’ll shut them down. Food poisoning can be deadly, and so we’re here mainly to educate. Our inspections are done in more of an educational way than a policing way. I don’t know any restaurant that wants to make anybody sick."

And if she did, she likely wouldn’t make it public at least not voluntarily but rather just shut it down. GRAMA requests can be made through Freeman to see the results for a specific restaurant, but she said that’s not very common, nor does she want it to be.

"It just makes the restaurant owners mad," she said. "Even the best ones have a violation sometime."

Last year, in 394 inspections, Freeman cited 1,184 violations. She said the most common violations are from things like not properly washing hands or not having a sanitation bucket for cloths after table wiping.

In 2005, there were 116 hand-washing violations, which include improper hand-washing facilities, 171 sanitizer-bucket violations, 123 temperature violations, 105 dishwasher violations, 62 for having dirty equipment or facilities and 99 for improper food storage.

Despite the numerous violations, Freeman said there is no need to avoid eating out.

"The thing is, you only get a snapshot of what’s going on," she said. "You could have a perfect inspection one day and the next have a ton of violations at the same place. The same thing doesn’t go on 24-7. But, typically, the ones I have problems with, I always have problems with. Every once in a while, others will have slip-ups, but everyone does pretty well."

Some of the best, she said, are the schools and the senior assisted-living centers.

"The schools hardly ever have any violations," she said. "They realize they’re dealing with a highly susceptible population and so they follow the rules. The people who work in the lunchroom really care about the kids and want to watch out for them. But there are quite a few businesses who do really well."

Out of the 210 full-time and the 25 seasonal restaurants, she said the procedure is normally the same.

"The main things we look for are that people are washing their hands, potentially hazardous foods (protein items) are properly temperature controlled, restaurants are clean and in good repair, dishwasher is working properly, that restrooms have hot water, soap and paper towels, we check to make sure food is stored properly so there are no chemicals that might cross contaminate, and each employee is required to have a food handlers’ card."

To obtain a food handlers’ permit a one-hour class must be attended and a test passed. Classes are offered in English and Spanish each month for $10, and the cards are good for three years.

If someone sees Freeman coming out of a restaurant wearing "typical" clothes, hair pulled back with a laser in her pocket and a copy of the report in her hand, they generally ask her how the food was and this time they listen. But, generally, her advice is the same.

"If it’s open then it’s OK to eat there."


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