DENVER — Every week we go behind kitchen doors for a look at restaurants to ensure food safety. Inspectors fine restaurants for repeat critical violations and for issues like no hot water or a pest infestation.
From inspections to collections, it is an expensive and time consuming process designed to keep the public safe. But, FOX31 Denver has learned hundreds of restaurants owe a half million dollars in fines.
Denver Environmental Health Department’s Danica Lee said, “We will turn them over to a collection agency. However, if we are still seeing issues at a facility and they are not paying fines, we have a number of tools we might use including sending someone to court.”
The Problem Solvers picked three locations that owe at least $2,000 in fines and face possible court action.
The violator, who is a repeat offender on our report card, owed $5,000 in fines for critical health code violations. Inspections show the health department shut the location on 17th Avenue down for not having hot water. Other issues include:
- Rodent Droppings
- Refrigerators not keeping food cold
- Grooved cutting boards
The owner closed his restaurant at 777 East 17th Avenue in Denver but has another location on 32nd, so FOX31’s Erika Gonzalez stopped by to see why they have not paid. Gonzalez asked, “Can you tell me why the health department hasn’t been paid?” The owner was not there and employees didn’t know.
The owner sent us an email that said, “We will continue to comply with all applicable health regulations …” But didn’t explain why the fine hasn’t been paid.
In June 2017, the health department shut down the restaurant on West Alameda Avenue for not having hot water and issued a $2,000 fine. Other mistakes included:
- Employee drink next to chicken
- Toxic grill cleaner was not stored properly
- Several food items held wrong temperature
We called the restaurant, but when the owner did not call us back we stopped by.
Gonzalez asked, “Why haven’t you paid the $2,000 fines that you owe the city of Denver?”
The owner was not there, but emailed us and said he did not know about the fines. The health department maintains it mailed the citations to the restaurant and the owner is responsible.
Jimmy Johns Gourmet Sandwiches – 2325 East Colfax Avenue in Denver
The Denver location on East Colfax was fined $2,000 for operating without hot water. Other issues last year included:
- Toxic sanitizer or no sanitizer
- Mold in ice machine
- No food thermometer
Gonzalez asked, “I wanted an explanation why you haven’t paid the fines?”
The manager said the owner was not there. The owner told us the check is in the mail.
Lee said, “We’ve seen the current fine system result in fewer violations. So, really that is the purpose of the fines to achieve compliance.”
How restaurants appear on the Report Card
Restaurant Report Card features health inspections in the city and county of Denver, Jefferson County, Weld County, Broomfield and restaurants under the jurisdiction of the Tri-County Health Department. The Tri-County Health Department includes Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties.
An inspection is a “snapshot” of what is happening during the day and time of the inspection. On any given day, a restaurant could have more or fewer violations than noted in an inspection. Also, at the time of an inspection, violations are recorded and can be corrected prior to the inspector leaving the restaurant. If violations are not corrected, a follow-up inspection is scheduled.
The criteria FOX31 Denver uses to give a restaurant a failing grade includes the evaluation of two unannounced inspections by county health inspectors. A failing restaurant must have five or four critical violations on their most recent regular inspection and five or four critical violations on the previous regular inspection. The restaurant may also fail for nine or ten or more violations in one inspection. Health inspectors may conduct critical or follow-up inspections, due to the number of critical violations found during a regular inspection. Those inspections may also be considered for our reports. We recognize restaurants with two regular inspections in a row, with no critical violations, by awarding them an A.