BUFFALO, NY (WIVB) - Things happen in restaurant kitchens that you’ll never know about. Such as frozen pork left out all night to thaw in a sink only to be thrown out because it was too warm.
“You kind of look at places like this and you kind of shake your head and say, I don’t understand how they can do it,” said Scott Ecker, Niagara County Health Department.
But things like that do happen and News 4 has the restaurant inspection records to show you. It’s information that many consumers want to get their hands on.
“I think that would help us choose what restaurant we want to go to,” says Carol Mayer, of Lockport, outside a restaurant cited by inspectors.
News 4 Investigates identified Niagara County restaurants with the highest number of violations. We did it by first obtaining the information, and then analyzing reports from the beginning of 2013 through September.
“That information needs to be shared with the public,” says James Devald, Niagara County Health Department.
Critical or red violations can lead to food borne illnesses. Non-critical or blue violations generally focus on the design, maintenance and cleanliness of an establishment.
News 4 visited Bill’s Diner, a popular eatery on Main Street in Newfane.
An August inspection by Niagara County health inspectors resulted in five critical and six non-critical violations. Inspectors noted that the cooler’s ambient temperature was at 50 degrees, while foods inside the cooler were between 50 and 54 degrees. Most of the contents – from cheese to tuna salad – were discarded.
“Forty-five degrees right now is New York State’s protocol. Cooling units need to be kept at 45 degrees or less,” explained Ecker.
Ecker says the cooler’s temperature is critical because it relates to factors which can lead to food borne illness.
“If it had the certain type of bacteria that’s going to cause an illness, then, yes it could [lead to illness],” confirmed Ecker.
Randy Turner, a manager at Bill’s Diner, says four of the critical violations from the August inspecton were the result of the cooler not working.
“Sometimes the health department just shows up a day before you’re going to do something about something anyway,” says Turner. “You just never know when they’re coming in. That’s their job. You’re supposed to be right on all the time.”
He says all violations have been corrected.
Kalamata’s Family Restaurant
Kalamata Family Restaurant on South Transit Road in Lockport was issued five critical violations and two non-criticals during a September inspection.
The report noted that two five gallon buckets of french onion soup in a cooler were not being cooled properly and beef was not cooked to temperature.
According to Niagara County Health Department records, Kalamata Family Restaurant was cited seven times for violations in 2012.
Reached by telephone, owner Michael Merrifield told News 4, “I’m in compliance with everything they ever asked me to do.”
“I believe part of it’s political, and they’re just picking on me. A lot of it is due to politics because of my success there in two years,” Merrifield contended. Niagara County Health Department officials had no response to those claims.
New Star Buffet
News 4 made numerous calls attempting to speak to someone about the inspections of the New Star Buffet on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Niagara Falls.
Inspectors recently investigated an illness complaint at New Star Buffet.
“We’ve tried and given them some chances,” said Ecker of the Niagara County Health Department.
Inspectors found two critical violations but could not determine whether the person who complained actually got sick from eating there. Inspectors noted that two bins of pork, one on the floor and the other on a cart, had a temperature of 69 degrees, and were voluntarily discarded by employees.
During an inspection in May, four critical and four non-critical violations were found. Among other things, the report noted that pork in a pan was 74 degrees.
When News 4’s Luke Moretti asked Ecker if that was dangerous he replied “Yes. “It’s over 70 degrees. I mean at that point it’s an automatic discard.”
According to County Health Department records, the restaurant was cited 5 times in 2012 and 3 in 2013. News 4 made repeated attempts to talk to the owner. A woman who identified herself as a manager told us the owner was not available.
The woman refused to speak to News 4 either on or off camera.
“I don’t want to do interview,” she said, “I don’t want to deal with it because, yeah.”
Unlike Erie County, Niagara County is among the counties statewide that posts its inspection reports for its 921 restaurants to a New York State Health Department website, https://health.data.ny.gov/
WIVB.com is the only publically available website where Erie County inspection reports can be found.
While the New York State website tells the public what inspectors found, it doesn’t grade the restaurant. That’s what New York City does and it’s become very popular with the dining public. Wednesday News 4 Investigates will report on whether letter grades are a possibility across the rest of the state.