LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — The four food trucks and two restaurants in this week's Dirty Dining have one thing in common--issues with refrigeration.
It's the type of thing we typically see this time of year as restaurant equipment struggles to keep things cold in extreme heat.
"The equipment just cannot take the high heat," said Veggie House Owner and Chef Wai Lee, who learned a hard lesson on June 1 when his restaurant on Spring Mountain Road and Decatur Boulevard was shut down for inadequate refrigeration.
"When there's a heatwave, everybody is rushing for technicians--air conditioning, residential, commercial, everybody's screaming for help."
While Chef Lee was waiting for his cries to be answered, "The next day it so happened, health inspector walked in" and reminded Lee he should have shut himself down due to the imminent health hazard.
"And then I say okay, I'll take a few days and change the equipment once and for all."
Inspectors found Veggie House's fridge and freezer were both on the fritz--a repeat violation resulting in lots of food having to be thrown out due to unsafe temperatures.
Other issues added up to 26 demerits, including dirty ceiling, dirty floors and excessively greasy equipment.
"It depends on how you want to look at the degree of dirtiness," said Lee. "When it's dirty, it's dirty, but the equipment is always constantly being used."
Double-stacked foods without barriers including eggplant, carrots and celery had to be tossed out due to potential contamination.
An ice cream scooper was stored in 78-degree standing water.
The can opener blade was covered in a layer of grease and old food.
And there was mold in the ice machine.
"There are hundreds of things that can go wrong in a restaurant," Lee said, noting that they'll be extra vigilant about upkeep in the future.
"It's a good thing in some ways. It's a good thing that I can see how bad I am," he said with a self-deprecating laugh. "I mean, the report allowed me to see what are the deficiencies and what's lacking and in that way I can improve."
He says worker turnover has been a big stumbling block.
"You keep training them, training them and the next day they're gone. So there is neglect. No question about that."
His point is proven the moment we enter the kitchen and discover workers have left rear door open, letting outside heat into the kitchen.
Lee discovers they also turned off the fly fan--another health code violation--and failed to fully close the walk-in cooler door.
But he remains grateful for the Health District's wake-up call.
"I tell them, lay it on me. Let's do it! So, I think it's a good thing."
Back out in the restaurant, Veggie House regular Daniel Karlsson speaks in support of his favorite vegan eatery.
"Health inspections make sense in a general sense, but I don't think there's anything shocking."
Neither the imminent health hazard nor the 26 demerits.
"If you walked into a restaurant and saw a "C" grade on the wall, would that matter to you?" Darcy Spears asked.
"I think certain places, but not this one. With it being vegan, it's hard for vegan food to spoil. Most of it's either dried and then re-hydrated and fried. It's durable food."
Veggie House was back to a 3-demerit "A" grade on June 9.
At the Premium Outlets on Grand Central Parkway and Bonneville Avenue, Dirty Dining repeat offender Kung Pao Wok was shut down on June 4 for a multi-generational cockroach infestation.
It also got 25 demerits.
Inspectors saw about 30 roaches nesting at the wok station and more on floors, under the prep station, at the hand sink and the trash can.
Greasy floors and equipment and pooling water were a draw for the roaches.
Dishes and cutting boards being washed in excessively dirty water, holes in walls and malfunctioning refrigerators rounded out the violations.
We were unable to reach anyone for comment.
Tacos La Chapis at the Las Palmas Indoor Swapmeet on Las Vegas Boulevard and Pecos Road was shut down June 1 with 44 demerits.
Inspectors say it's now going under the new name Camacho’s Tacos.
Operators were serving and preparing food without immediate access to a restroom.
An employee handled ready-to-eat tortillas with bare hands, another took cash, then continued to prepare food without washing hands, and there were multiple other handwashing violations.
Multiple foods were in the temperature danger zone.
Dry wiping cloths with no sanitizer were used to clean cutting boards.
A bag of radishes was stored in the handsink and limes were not washed before use.
Inspectors noted no active managerial control for foodborne illness risk factors.
We reached the owner but were unable to get comment due to a language barrier.
The food truck was reinspected on June 4 and received a 3-demerit "A" grade.
Dirty Dining repeat offender Carefree Catering had another of its trucks put in park on June 4 at Sky Vista and Far Hills drives with 41 demerits and three imminent health hazards: gross unsanitary conditions, improper sewage disposal and inadequate refrigeration.
A food handler handled the wastewater tank cap, then re-entered the truck and touched counters, cleaning rags, utensils and other food contact surfaces without washing hands.
Wastewater was draining directly onto the ground.
Pico de gallo, cheese, raw beef, raw pork and chicken wings all had to be thrown out due to unsafe temperatures.
The sanitizer bucket set up with no detectable sanitizer.
The fridge was red-tagged.
And there was no knowledgeable person in charge.
A note on the health inspection said, "Multiple mobile vending permits operated by owner Gerrie Aguirre have been observed with food safety risk factors continuously out of compliance. Owner must attend food safety assessment meeting."
We spoke to Gerry Aguirre and she said they've been battling heat and changing out refrigerators but "the inspectors are putting down everything they can." She disagrees with some violations, saying she is doing the best she can right now.
"We fail and then can get things back on track within hours so the process is kind of crazy. It’s embarrassing and hard to keep doing our job. We do a good job, we have good food and we’re doing our best. Never to our knowledge have we gotten anyone sick. We won’t serve bad food and don’t take chances. We’re going out early to battle the heat and don’t stay out as long. Heat makes it hard. We're doing everything we can to keep people safe."
The Carefree Catering truck was re-inspected on June 7 and received a zero-demerit "A" grade.
Inspectors visited Tio Chuey’s taco truck on June 2 and validated a complaint that it was operating in a dirt lot, which is a violation of Health District regulations for mobile vendors.
The truck was parked off Commerce Center Drive near Oso Blanca Road and Centennial Parkway.
They did a routine inspection following the complaint investigation which resulted in an imminent health hazard closure for inadequate refrigeration.
Salsa, guacamole, sour cream, beans and shredded cheese all had to be thrown out.
Tio Chuey's Tacos was reinspected on June 9 and received a zero-demerit "A" grade.
Owner Alex Galindo said it's a fairly new food truck and he learned a few things from inspectors. He just had to reprogram the defrost cycle on one of his refrigerators and the issue was fixed. "Some operators get annoyed with the Health District but they help a lot," Galindo said, emphasizing that head it especially hard on food trucks.
Meats Gone Wild was taken out of service at Food Truck Frenzy at Mountains Edge park.
It was shut down June 4 for inadequate refrigeration and it also got 22 demerits.
Inspectors wrote up violations for an ice chest containing various open packages of different kinds of meat intermingled in loose packaging and open containers spilling over and causing contamination of other meat products. Owner Kurt Zetsch says he was in the process of throwing that meat away due to blood in the bottom of the cooler.
No food in the make table was at the proper temperature and all food products had to be thrown out.
A mesh bag of onions on the trailer floor was in direct contact with a battery.
Zetsch says his fridge was 38 degrees when they left the commissary, but the temperature went up during travel to the job site and the health inspector didn’t give his generator time to kick in.
"It's a brand new fridge but it's so hot and the drive was so long that the temp went up and the guy wouldn’t give me 15 minutes for things to cool down. Inspectors are hammering hard on food trucks right now. I usually don’t work in the summer due to these issues."
Meats Gone Wild plans to get reinspected in early-mid July.
Click here to see the health report for Tacos la Chapis.
Click here to see the health report for Carefree Catering #12.
Click here to see the health report for Veggie House Restaurant.
Click here to see the health report for Kung Pao Wok.
Click here to see the health report for Meats Gone Wild.
Click here to see the complaint for Tio Chuy's Tacos.
Click here to see the health report for Tio Chuy's Tacos.