City site reveals gross violations

Matt Presser

Peek inside the kitchens of some Evanston restaurants and you might be surprised at what you see: food at improper temperatures, soiled counters and sinks and, in one extreme case, you might even find your waiter doing the laundry.

Results from Evanston health inspection reports reveal some startling facts about local restaurants, grocery stores, schools and Northwestern dining halls. The reports range from the worrisome to the downright frightening, such as an October 2005 inspection of Hunan Spring, 635 Chicago Ave., in which the restaurant was cited for “laundry being done in food preparation areas.”

The scores, which were placed online in March and have logged at least 1,100 visitors, allow diners to check out what goes on behind the scenes at their favorite eateries in reports dating back to January 2005. In the past, residents had to submit written requests to get the reports.

Carl Caneva, an inspector who also supervises Evanston’s two other full-time inspectors, said the scores were posted online due to increased curiosity from the community.

“These reports have been public records for quite some time now, and we’re just making them more accessible,” he said. “The intent was not to put (restaurants) on notice. It was simply to serve a public need.”

Caneva said some people in the city are unaware of the duties of his staff and that posting the scores online is a way to educate the public.

Each food-service facility is inspected up to three times per year. Follow-up visits may also occur if certain issues need to be addressed.

Eateries start with scores of 100 and lose points for each violation – from one point for dirty floors, walls or ceilings to five if an inspector observes insects, rodents or other animals.

Average scores in 2005 ranged from 89 and 95, depending on the type of restaurant. NU facilities fared mostly in the 90s, with one perennial exception. In three consecutive routine inspections at 1835 Hinman, inspectors noted fruitflies.

Paul Komelasky, Sodexho’s district manager, credited the problems to “circumstances” at the time of the inspections, such as a broken refrigerator, missing sneezeguards and a new facility that didn’t match city codes. He said he tries to keep inspection scores at 90 or higher. Hinman’s last three scores from March 2005 to January 2006 were 84, 90, and 78.

“The number of the people eating at Hinman is up tremendously, and we’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback from people eating at that facility,” he said. “I don’t believe there are any issues of concern about that facility.”

Restaurant scores from around the city range from 100 – at places like Taco Bell, 1743 Sherman Ave., and Chef’s Station, 915 Davis St. – to 54 at Oceanique, 505 Main St., in an August 2005 report. Oceanique improved to 89 in its most recent inspection last December.

Grocery stores also are inspected. In its inspection last month, Whole Foods, 1640 Chicago Ave., received a 78 and was cited for fruitflies in a storage area and a blocked hand sink.

“As is human nature, there are mistakes that are made,” Caneva said. “And that’s why we do the inspections. We point out the mistakes that are being made and also educate to promote food safety and prevent foodborne illnesses as much as we possibly can.”

Caneva said Greek houses usually score well in inspections. Many, like Alpha Chi Omega, received perfect scores, whereas Phi Kappa Psi received a 74 in a January 2005 inspection. It improved to the 90s in its three most recent inspections.

As for Hunan Spring – which was also cited for other issues, such as improper hand washing and food handling – city officials ordered the restaurant to close for a short period and helped them institute a quality assurance plan.

The laundry machine was moved out of the kitchen, and their latest inspection scored an 89.

Reach Matt Presser at [email protected]