Punishment lax for repeat health inspection failures

ABC 17 News digs through inspection records

Behind the Kitchen Door

COLUMBIA, Mo. - We eat at restaurants, grab a quick snack or get a pick-me-up at local coffee shops, but many of us rarely think about the cleanliness and safety of those establishments.

ABC 17 News combed through inspection records and talked with officials to find out how the process works and how places that serve food and drinks are regulated in a new investigative series called Behind the Kitchen Door.

When the joint Boone County and Columbia Public Health Department does a routine inspection of an eatery and finds a critical violation, the department may come back for a re-inspection to make sure the violation is fixed.

The department keeps a database of inspection reports on its website. However, the department does not keep a separate log of the restaurants and establishments that repeatedly make the same mistakes.

"If they’ve corrected it upon the re-inspection, essentially that case is closed,” Columbia/Boone County Environmental Public Health Supervisor Kala Wekenborg-Tomka said.

Some Columbia restaurants had mold in their ice machines during routine inspections over several years. Records show the department would come in for a routine inspection, notice the mold in the ice machine and come back for a follow-up inspection to make sure the problem is fixed. As long as the establishment cleaned up the mold in the ice machine, the department closed the case.

"It sounds like that someone just needs to be a little more on top of making sure that gets done routinely, that’s a very common thing actually ... mold in an ice machine, it's the perfect environment,” Wekenborg-Tomka said.

Searchable database of reports since Jan. 1

Restaurant inspection records show there's no follow-up for repeat violations, which have been happening for years.

Wekenborg-Tomka said the department has the "ability to work with that operator to identify some type of a risk control plan.”

The department also says it can charge establishments a $100 fee if they have to come back for a second re-inspection. And this fee can be assessed after each recurring re-inspection. Records show as many as five re-inspections have happened at local establishments. 

Restaurant inspection records show Villa Italian Kitchen in the Columbia Mall's food court was charged a re-inspection fee in August. However, the manager who writes the restaurants check's said she has received no notice about the fee. Villa Italian's violations include food above or below the required holding temperature in hot and cold food holding sections, dishes not being sanitized and missing date labels on foods.

Callaway County's Public Health Department said it would never allow repeated violations, such as the mold in the ice machine to happen, however, it doesn't have as many restaurants to keep track of.

ABC 17 News is going to continue to go Behind the Kitchen Door. Keep watching. You might see your favorite restaurant. 

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