Dirty Dining: Yayo Taco's owner questions health inspector's motives
Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- A restaurant owner turns the tables on the Southern Nevada Health District in this week's Dirty Dining. Contact 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears explains why one man thinks inspectors are digging up violations for dollars.
"This health department is an atrocity," explained Cho Yiu, chef and owner of Yayo Taco.
Cho isn't pulling any punches.
"For them to come with two officials here armed with big books of health department regulations, I think, you know that speaks for itself. You could probably close up any shop in town."
The chef and owner of Yayo Taco at University Gardens on Maryland Parkway believes the Health District has a conflict of interest because they're partially funded by inspection and health card fees. He believes they come out looking for as many violations as they can find. Yayo Taco was shut down with 50 demerits.
"From my point of view, they came in with the intent to close us up," said Cho.
When inspectors do close a restaurant down, the place has to pay the Health District more than $700 before they can be reinspected and reopen.
"I'm not saying that we're completely within the procedures of the Health Department system, at least the way they've set it up. But gosh, it's almost like going two miles an hour over the speed limit. There's to me just too severe a penalty for what we're practicing," said Cho.
So what was Yayo Taco written up for?
"Things like oh, you can't put aspirin bottles next to your packaged tortilla shells. Get that no smoking sign right in the front of the window," said Cho.
They were also cited for reusing single-use cups for spices and leaving the back door open.
"Sometimes I want to open the door and have a little breeze, and well, unfortunately a fly may come in and well, we get dinged for three points for that," said Cho.
Inspectors also found more serious violations, like meats that were more than a week past their expiration dates.
"That is potentially hazardous for your customers," mentioned Chief Investigator Darcy Spears.
"Yes, definitely. It wasn't as old as the label said," said Cho.
But he admits the orange juice was. Inspectors found orange juice that was two weeks past it's use-by date.
"The orange juice -- I guess it got shoved into the back of the cooler case so that wasn't being used. If it was being used, we would certainly discard it," said Cho.
There was slimy buildup in the ice machine.
"Certainly not anything that touches the ice itself," said Cho.
Inspectors confiscated an employee's counterfeit health card.
"The staff member claimed she got it from an authorized Health Department location," explained Cho.
Cho took our cameras inside to show us how things have shaped up. The paprika is no longer being stored with cleaning chemicals, Cho called carelessness. There's a clear path to the hand sink, inspectors found it blocked by a bucket.
"What about the rusty beer bucket that was being used to store the sanitizer? That didn't look so great," asked Darcy.
"That's discarded. I think that was the bucket that was in the sink," said Cho.
He showed us their new labeling, complete with disposal time, and despite his disdain for the Health District's inspection system, he tried to look on the bright side.
"We have recently been featured in a show called Diners, Drive-ins and Dives so hey, if there's a positive side to it, we definitely qualify as an authentic dive now," said Cho.
Yayo Taco paid the $716 fee and was quickly reinspected and earned it's "A" grade back. We asked the Health District to respond to Cho's concerns about conflict of interest. They say the percentage of C downgrades and closures is 4% of all their routine food inspections.
Here's the Health District's full statement:
The Southern Nevada Health District (SNHD), Environmental Health Food Operations program has a primary goal to protect the health of all Clark County visitors and residents. Food establishments are inspected with the primary focus on imminent health hazards and potentially hazardous food handling operations such as cooking, cooling, hot holding, cold holding, bare-hand contact, cross-contamination of raw product with cooked product and overall sanitation of the facility.
In 2010, the District Board of Health approved the current fee schedule. The schedule includes fees for food facilities which have been downgraded to a C grade or have been closed due to an imminent health hazard or repeat critical and major violations. A food facility that receives a B downgrade does not incur any fees. During public workshops, held prior to the BOH approval of the schedule, industry representatives proposed increasing the penalties for food establishments, identified through inspection, that pose a threat to public health and welfare. The approved fee schedule can be found at: http://southernnevadahealthdistrict.org/download/eh/eh-fee-schedule.pdf
The SNHD, EHS, when inspecting a food establishment, focus their attention on imminent health hazards, critical violations and major violations. Imminent health hazards consist of: interruption of power service, lack of potable water, lack of hot water, gross unsanitary occurrences, pest infestation, sewage or liquid waste not disposed of in an approved manner, lack of adequate refrigeration, lack of adequate employee toilets and hand-washing facilities, misuse of poisonous or toxic materials, emergencies such as a fire and/or flood, suspected food borne illness outbreak and other conditions or circumstances that may endanger public health. Any of these items will result in the immediate closure of the food establishment and there is a closure fee assessed with this action. In order for the food establishment to re-open, the imminent hazards must be corrected and the food establishment must pass a re-inspection with 10 demerits or less.
Critical violations are assessed a 5 point demerit per item and consist of: operating within the parameters of the issued permit, hand-washing, no bare-hand contact, proper glove use, foods from approved sources with appropriate labeling, hot and cold water from an approved source; food is wholesome: no spoilage, no contamination or adulteration of the food product; no cross-contamination, cross-connections and proper backflow devices installed; proper sewage and waste water disposal; potentially hazardous foods: cooked properly, reheated properly, cooled properly, stored at proper temperatures during storage, display, service, transport and holding. 5 critical violations will result in a C downgrade. Major violations are assessed a 3 point demerit per item and consist of: food protected from contamination during storage and preparation; food properly labeled and stored away from toxic chemicals; food protected from contamination by employees and the public; kitchenware and food contact surfaces properly washed and sanitized; adequate hand-washing facilities that are stocked, easily accessible and for hand-washing only; accurate thermometers provided and used; effective pest control measures; and potentially hazardous foods properly thawed.
The SNHD, Environmental Health Specialists (EHS) over the past year (September 1, 2011 through August 31, 2012) completed 19,934 routine food inspections. Of the 19,934 inspections; 612 facilities received a C downgrade with a fee of $477 assessed and 212 facilities were closed with a fee assessed of $716. The percentage of C downgrades and closures is 4.13% of all routine food inspections. The current expenditures for SNHD for EHS Food staff, equipment and operations are approximately $7,500,000 million dollars per year. The above mentioned C downgrade fees and closure fees total $443,716, which is 5.91% of the total financial requirements needed to fund the Environmental Health Food Program at SNHD.