Gnats in the dining room and rodent droppings on top of cans of food.
A fish freshly caught out of Clinton Lake being stored in a refrigerator.
Soy and barbecue sauce sitting out for hours until the bottles reached 71 degrees, 30 degrees above what it should be.
And employees storing drinks without lids over food preparation areas.
These were among the worst violations that led to restaurants failing inspections across Champaign County during the first part of this year.
Altogether, from January 1 to May 31, 13 food establishments were closed or failed inspections for health code violations, according to a review of inspection records by the county health department.
A food establishment fails if it receives an adjusted score of 35 or less on a 100-point scale. It is possible for a restaurant to receive a score of less than zero. Scores are adjusted for repeat and critical violations.
Four of the 13 establishments were temporarily closed, including Project 47 Smokehouse in Mahomet, Dublin O’Neil’s and 301 Mongolia in downtown Champaign, Szechuan China in Champaign and Sushi M (formerly Yori Q) in Champaign.
Local health officials inspect food service facilities for compliance across nearly four dozen health and safety items – including critical violations and risk factors.
A restaurant is automatically closed if its adjusted score falls below zero or if it has critical violations that pose an immediate health threat to public safety. Restaurants can also be closed if they do not pay their annual permit fee. Establishments can stay open with scores between zero and 35, but they must be re-inspected within 30 days.
In the first quarter, zero restaurants were closed because of failed inspections, but two restaurants were closed for other reasons. Dublin O’Neil’s and Mongolia 301’s joint permit was suspended on the morning of St. Patrick’s Day for a failure to pay its permit fee; however, the Irish Pub corrected the failure within 20 minutes to stay open for the holiday. Additionally, Project 47 Smokehouse in Mahomet was closed on March 6 because it was operating without a permit.
The health department also temporarily closed 12 restaurants on May 25 for the failure to pay their food license permit fees: 8F Ice Cream & Crepe, Chatime, Community United Church of Christ, Destiny Meats, Hot Pot Lab, J & K Meats, LMK’s Smokin’ BBQ at Boomerangs, New Horizon United Methodist Church, Que’s BBQ at the Knights of Columbus, Neil Street Food & Liquor, Honeybaked Ham & Café and City Quick Mart.
Lack of failures in early 2017 an outlier
Just four restaurants failed inspections in Champaign County between January 1 and March 31, the lowest in any three-month period in the past 10 years.
By comparison, 31 restaurants scored within 10 points of failing, the third highest total of near failures in any quarter over the past 10 years.
The near-failure restaurants all had between three and seven critical violations, the worst of which included a dead cockroach sitting in an ice cream dispenser, holding food beyond seven-day use, letting salsa sit out for hours until it reached 71 degrees and employees storing drinks without lids over food preparation areas.
Jim Roberts, director of environmental health for the health district, said that his department does not keep tabs on trends in inspections, and that the downturn from January to March could be an outlier. But he said he has no data about the trend.
“I don’t know. We don’t really look at it in quarters like that,” Roberts said. “I mean I wish I had another person hired that would be a food program analyst that could look at the information we’re generating. We’re generating a lot of inspections. We’re generating a lot of data. We generate a lot of different things, but I don’t have a food program analyst that could provide information like that.”
CU-CitizenAccess has records of all restaurant inspections by the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District dating back to 2008.
In the first quarter of 2017, 379 restaurants were inspected and four failed – one in January, one in February and two in March.
On average, about 14 restaurants fail each quarter out of an average of about 324 restaurants that are inspected, according to an analysis of the past 10 years of restaurant inspection data.
The previous low was the second quarter of 2008, when there were also four failures in the three-month period. The second fewest failures occurred in the third quarter of 2014, when six restaurants failed their inspections.
Close calls are up
While failures were at a decade-low, the restaurants that came within 10 points of failing was near the 10-year high, CU-Citizen Access found.
In an average quarter, about 20 restaurants score between 36 and 45, and the 31 near-failures was the third-most in the past 10 years, following 36 near-failures in the second quarter of 2016 and 35 near-failures in the second quarter of 2013.
Between 2010 and 2016, there were three months with no failures (January 2010, April 2010 and September 2014) and two months with one failure (September 2012 and May 2015).
Already, the number of failures is returning to the median.
In the second quarter, there was an uptick in failures. In April, four restaurants failed their inspections, and one restaurant, Szechuan China, was closed by the health department because of a failed inspection. In May, two restaurants failed inspections, one of which, Yori Q (now Sushi M) was closed.
Roberts said the department only has the resources to look at certain issues, such as whether inspection placards had an effect on restaurant inspections, but it does not have the resources to examine consistency each month.
Restaurants that were temporarily closed include:
Project 47 Smokehouse, 101 N. Lombard St., Mahomet
The health department shut down the restaurant on March 6, after it had opened for business on March 3 and began operating without receiving a permit.
On March 7, the restaurant submitted a plan review application and was added to the health department’s waiting list, which takes about 45 days to process.
Dublin O’Neil’s/301 Mongolia, 301 North Neil St., Champaign
The health district shut down the Irish Pub restaurant for a failure to pay for its health permit renewal on March 17 at 8:15 a.m. Twenty minutes later, at 8:35 a.m., the restaurant paid its $112.50 fee and reinstatement fee and was reopened in time for St. Patrick’s Day.
Szechuan China, 401 South First St., Champaign
The Chinese restaurant was closed after failing its routine inspection on April 12 with an adjusted score of negative 8 and nine critical violations. The violations included rodent droppings too numerous to count being found on cans of food, gnats in the dining room, food not being labeled for seven-day use, improper storage temperatures for cooked and cooled food and using reduced oxygen packaging for cooked food.
On April 18, the restaurant passed its reinspection with an adjusted score of 71, and the restaurant was reopened.
Yori Q/Sushi M, 715 South Neil Street, Champaign
The Korean restaurant was shut down on May 15 after failing a re-inspection because of repeat risk factor and critical violations after failing its routine inspection on May 1.
In the May 1 inspection, the restaurant failed with an adjusted score of 14 and six critical violations. The violations included teapots and teacups not being sanitized while washed, the back door not closing, chemicals being stored above and intermingled with food items, and open bottles of mustard, soy sauce dressing and fish sauce being stored at room temperature instead of being refrigerated.
The restaurant failed a second re-inspection on May 18 due to the presence of a repeated critical violation and uncorrected violations from the previous two inspections.
The restaurant was re-opened on May 19 after passing its third re-inspection with an adjusted score of 86 and zero critical violations.
Restaurants that failed inspections include:
The restaurant failed its routine inspection on February 27 with an adjusted score of 16 and seven critical violations. The violations included employees scooping ice without washing hands first, condiments being stored at room temperature, hot dogs being held beyond seven-day use and the back door not fully self-closing.
Rantoul Public House passed its re-inspection on March 29 with a score of 81 and zero critical violations.
The grocery store failed its routine inspection on March 2 with an adjusted score of 21 and four critical violations, including a lack of labeling of open foods and improper storage of chemicals and inspect spray.
As of June 27, the store had not been reinspected.
A health inspector failed the restaurant during its routine inspection on January 31. The restaurant received an adjusted score of 4 with eight critical violations that included improper temperature storage of cooked food, improper cleaning of dishes, improper storage of chemicals and a fish caught in Clinton Lake for personal use being stored in a freezer.
The restaurant passed its reinspection on February 27 with an adjusted score of 69 and two critical violations.
The restaurant failed its routine inspection on March 7 with an adjusted score of 18 and seven critical violations. The violations included sewage waste water backing up onto the floor, medications and personal items being stored above the cook line, the hand sink area being blocked and improper food storage temperatures.
The restaurant passed its re-inspection on March 14 with an adjusted score of 79 and one critical violation.
The Chinese restaurant failed its routine inspection on April 3 with an adjusted score of 32 and five critical violations. The violations included cooked foods being cooled, despite the restaurant not having proper appliances to do so, an employee drink being stored next to clean plates for customers, a dish washer being condemned after not properly mixing a sanitization liquid, and food blocking the kitchen sink.
The restaurant passed its re-inspection on April 19 with an adjusted score of 77 and two critical violations.
The Chinese restaurant failed its routine inspection on April 6 with an adjusted score of 27 and four critical violations. The violations included bottles of sauce that are supposed to be “refrigerated after opening” being stored at room temperature, employee beverages being stored next to the plating area, fried egg pieces being stored at room temperature and a hand sink being blocked by food.
The restaurant passed its re-inspection on May 3 with an adjusted score of 44 and two critical violations.
The Mexican grocery store failed its routine inspection on April 17 with an adjusted score of 34 and four critical violations. The violations included an open gallon of milk being stored in direct contact with ice in the meat prep area, chlorine sanitizer being too high of a solution, food being stored in a broken cooler and an employee switching tasks without washing hands, including cutting raw beef to moving a plunger to wrapping raw beef.
The store passed its reinspection on May 2 with an adjusted score of 62 and two critical violations.
The Korean restaurant failed its routine inspection on April 21 with an adjusted score of 14 and seven critical violations. The violations included the restaurant using a broken dishwasher, improper storage of cleaning materials, food being stored at improper temperatures, an employee handling dirty dishes and then clean dishes without washing their hands.
The restaurant passed its re-inspection on May 15 with an adjusted score of 74 and one critical violation..
The restaurant failed its routine inspection on May 9 with an adjusted score of 30 and six critical violations. The violations included an employee touching their face and returning to food handling without washing their hands, an employee drink sitting where food is prepared, the kitchen sink being blocked by five-gallon buckets of soy sauce and over saturation of sanitizer.
The restaurant passed its re-inspection on June 8 with an adjusted score of 71 and two critical violations.