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DIRTY DINING: Baja Fresh shut down four times in four months

Posted at 10:50 PM, Oct 06, 2016

Contact 13 is dishing up a double dose of Dirty Dining this week. In the special edition, we go to a restaurant that's been shut down by the Health District four times in four months.

And you won't believe what they say is to blame!  

The manager at Baja Fresh saw us coming a mile away.

"Sorry, but I cannot discuss anything," said Jorge Rivera, District Manager.

There have been issues at the location on Rancho Drive and Craig Road for months. 

The repeat offender has been plagued with problems recently -- failing one health inspection after another.  

They've been shut down four times in four months, which is unusual for a restaurant. Dirty Dining wanted to give the restaurant a chance to explain why there's so many problems.

"No, it's not us, really," Rivera said.

If not them, then who?

"We're investigating ourselves what's the deal," Rivera said.

In September, Baja Fresh was shut down twice in five days. 

On Sept. 23, inspectors found improper handwashing, unsafe food temperatures and the imminent health hazard of inadequate refrigeration. 

On Sept. 27, shut down -- again. 

Kitchenware in clean storage was soiled with food debris. The cabinet under the soda station was in as bad shape as it was back in May. 

The grill covers were straight up disgusting. And there was excessive build-up on the grill, broiler and vents.

"We know somebody's tampering with our equipment," said Rivera, blaming their refrigeration issues on sabotage. 

He says someone disconnected the Freon in their fridge and purposely tripped a circuit breaker, adding that they've fired multiple employees from upper management on down. 

But we remind him inspectors found a lot more wrong that just the temperature in the fridge.

Their pictures show a lot of mess and caked on food debris and grease and dirty conditions.

"All been taken care of," Rivera said.

So was that sabotage or that was just lazy people?

"I think that was part of the sabotage," Rivera said.

Things started going down hill for them with a 28-demerit C grade in April.

When it came time for re-inspection, they failed and were shut down May 20. Inspectors found shrimp at a dangerously unsafe temperature. 

The grill was caked with grease and food debris. And a cabinet was literally falling apart.  

Fast forward to July 18 -- another closure for two imminent health hazards -- sewage and refrigeration issues. 

Inspectors said they were re-using shrimp marinade for an unspecified period of time. All storage pans were soiled and appeared to be re-used from the previous day.

The sink was filthy. Equipment was caked with excessive food debris. The grill was even dirtier than two months before. 

And the grease build-up on the vent and the floor under equipment suggests they simply weren't cleaning in any meaningful way.

"We have contacted the Los Angeles Police Department because our home base is on California," Rivera said. "So we've already taken these matters really high."

He thinks it is sabotage even though he says there is no proof yet, which is why he contacted police.

"As you can see we got our A letter," Rivera said. "We're working really close, meeting with the Health Department and thank you for the opportunity."

It is, in fact, now back open with a three-demerit A grade.

The Baja Fresh on Eastern and Serene avenues was also shut down for a few days in August for inadequate refrigeration -- further feeding their sabotage theory.