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Saturday, January 10th, 2009

Health officials tell dirty diners to clean up act

By Shelley Grieshop
Local health officials are threatening to publicly announce inspection results for food establishments if some of the most unsanitary ones don't clean up their act, they said.
During a meeting this week of the Mercer County-Celina City Health Department, Sanitarian Michelle Kimmel asked board members for guidance and a plan that includes stricter consequences for retail food service businesses that refuse to follow state guidelines for food safety.
"We've been citing some of these for years with no action (by the businesses)," she said.
Kimmel said there currently are about 10 food licensed facilities who are repeat violators.
Following a discussion, board members gave Kimmel permission to notify food service establishments of the board's intention to investigate and pursue other enforcement options besides warnings and/or various fine amounts. Kimmel will inform licensed businesses about the pending changes when she mails out renewal license applications in February, she said.
Kimmel said some of the violations don't put the public in immediate danger of illness "but how long do we let it go?" she asked. "After five years of food inspections ... I think we need to take more action."
To prove her point, Kimmel showed a slide presentation of the inside of some area businesses, whose names she kept anonymous. In the photos, mold appeared to be the most obvious problem in storage areas such as walk-in coolers. Also, deteriorating flooring and ceiling tiles, as well as overall filthy conditions were evident in many kitchens.
"You can smell the mold when you go in some of these places," Kimmel told board members.
Kimmel said state health regulations require walls and ceilings of food storage areas to be nonabsorbent and have smooth surfaces that are easy to clean. However, many local businesses use old facilities that have wood or pressed board surfaces, which tend to harbor mold and mildew.
After viewing some of the photos including pictures of food preparation areas, board members agreed they wouldn't want to eat at some of the establishments for fear of getting ill.
Kimmel said "most of the time" the food kept in storage areas is sealed to protect it from the mold or other types of fungus, but not always.
The board discussed several options they believe might put pressure on owners to make necessary changes including publishing the results of inspections in the local newspaper and/or on the health departments Web site for the public to view. Suspending and/or revoking food service licenses also was discussed.
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