MADISON — Of the 95 food inspections conducted in the last six months, only two turned up infractions serious enough to merit re-inspection, local health records show.
Madison is home to 82 food establishments, which include sit-down and fast-food restaurants, delis, grocery stores and schools, said Director of Health Trent Joseph, who said inspection frequency depends on the type of establishment, but the department does its best to visit each site multiple times per year.
When an inspector visits a site, they bring a form that lists all the possible infractions for which a restaurant can be cited . Each infraction is assigned a point value between one and four, depending on its severity.
The highest possible score an establishment can receive is 100, though perfect scores are exceedingly rare and tend to apply to brand-new restaurants that have not yet opened, Joseph said.
To pass an inspection, the establishment must meet two main requirements: it must score 80 points or above, and it must not have any 4-point infractions, which pose the biggest threat to food safety.
If the food establishment does not meet either criterion, it has two weeks to comply with health code standards and pass reinspection. Read more about Connecticut’s food inspection rules here.
When inspector Amanda Rizzo was asked whether she worried about consumer safety at any restaurants in town, she said, “No, definitely not.”
“Routine food inspections are a snapshot of when the inspector gets there,” Joseph said, emphasizing what the department sees during a visit does not represent restaurant conditions at all times. Restaurants might get unlucky in terms of inspection timing, Joseph said — if an inspector shows up right after the lunch rush, for example, they’re more likely to have food out that does not meet temperature requirements.
Because inspections provide only a glimpse into restaurant safety, both enforcement and education about health standards are of equal importance, said Joseph. With Connecticut’s plans to switch to FDA codes, for example, the department has held two meetings with food establishment owners and operators to explain what those changes will entail.
Below are the restaurants that, during the past half year, failed to pass an initial inspection and merited reinspection within a two-week period. In each case, the establishment addressed problems appropriately and passed reinspection, according to health department records.
At the end of July, an inspection turned up two 4-point infractions, health records show. A reinspection took place three weeks later, and the restaurant passed. The establishment also passed its most recent inspection in December with a score of 86.
One of the 4-point infractions was for inadequate cold storage temperature. The report notes that a refrigerator held food above the maximum temperature of 41 degrees.
Rizzo, who conducted the inspection, said Petrillo’s has since replaced an older refrigerator unit, successfully addressing the problem.
Owner Clem Gazzillo said that even before the inspection, he had called in a repairman to work on the older unit and adjust the holding temperature, but since it continued to cause problems, he decided to buy a new unit.
“We didn’t want to fool around — we bought a brand new one,” he said.
Petrillo’s also received a 4-point infraction because at around 200 ppm, the bleach concentration of a sanitizing solution was too high, the report shows. (The appropriate range is between 50 and 100 ppm, Joseph said, adding that a low concentration is a more common problem.)
Gazzillo said the solution was for rags used to wipe down surfaces.
To mix the solution, his staff had measured bleach by the capful, he said. With this method, it was easier to add “a baby’s fingernail” too much bleach, but he has since replaced the cap with a special container that makes measurements more accurate, Gazzillo added.
The report notes that Petrillo’s provided test strips to check the concentration and fixed the problem while Rizzo was on-site.
Petrillo’s has been around for nearly two decades, and throughout that time has consistently received scores in the 90s, Gazzillo said. Joseph said restaurant scores may change with new health inspectors, and that over the years inspections have become more detailed.
During the last six months, the Madison Health Department has conducted three inspections of The Red Tomato Pizzeria.
The last of those, which took place on Jan. 22, was considered a reinspection, and the establishment received a passing score of 97.
A report from Sept. 8 shows that at around 200 ppm, the restaurant had an overly high bleach concentration in its sanitizing solution, but that this was corrected while the inspector was on-site. Because the eatery was able to do so, Rizzo said, the restaurant did not require re-inspection.
Owner Ahmet Maras said getting the bleach concentration right can be tricky, and it’s not uncommon to make an adjustment.
Upon a December inspection, Rizzo noted two 4-point violations on her report. One was for poor hand-washing practices — the report states that an employee ran his or her hands under water for less than 20 seconds and did not use soap.
But Rizzo, who has been with the department for two years, said she could not recall any hand-washing problems at the restaurant in the past, and that when she went back to reinspect, she observed good hand-washing practices.
The other 4-point deduction was for pasta sauce that was not held at a hot enough temperature. The staff discarded it when the inspector was on-site, according to the report.
When Rizzo returned about a month later — the re-inspection took more than two weeks because of the holiday season, she said — the establishment had fixed this issue as well, receiving its latest score of 97.
Maras said his restaurant’s problems tend to be minor, and that he appreciates when an inspector points out an infraction—that gives him the chance to make his restaurant, which he considers a “public service,” the best it can be.