Roaches are a fact of life in South Florida, but if state inspectors find them in a restaurant kitchen, it’s a violation that can result in the business being shut down.
That’s what happened to P.F. Chang’s in Boca Raton after inspectors found 38 live roaches as well as dead roaches in the kitchen on Jan. 31. The restaurant has since re-opened. The restaurant racked up a total of 22 violations, from employees preparing food without a hair restraint to foods not being stored at cold enough temperatures.
In fact, on average, three times a day, state inspectors cite Palm Beach County restaurants for insect and/or animal-related violations, according to Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation records. This includes everything from roaches, flying insects, rodents and various droppings and excrement to a hole in a screen door.
In the last year, Palm Beach County has had 1,023 restaurant inspections with those kinds of violations, resulting in 1,377 total animal or insect-related violations, since some restaurants had more than one.
Should the public be concerned when roaches or other insects are detected during an inspection?
Yes, says Ken Kuscher, a Boynton Beach state-certified food safety instructor with 35 years experience.
Kuscher, who owns Brunswick Food Service Educators, said Tuesday: “If an inspector sees enough insects to warrant writing it down, there is a problem. The inspectors are pretty well-trained. People eat out and people get sick for various reasons. It could be that the food handlers haven’t properly washed their hands after leaving the restroom, or it could be an infestation of insects or rodents.
“All of these are serious things. They become real serious when people get sick,” Kuscher said, stressing that restaurants have to be vigilant.
Roaches carry bacteria that can cause salmonella, staphylococcus and streptococcus if deposited on food, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Cockroach feces, skin sheddings and saliva can cause asthma and allergies, especially in children.
One Palm Beach County restaurant gained the dubious distinction of having six animal and/or insect related violations in one inspection. On June 7, 2016 at Sushi Fans Café in Wellington inspectors noted a basic violation with at least 99 dead roaches found in the kitchen. One of the highest priority violations was written after an inspector reported finding a roach egg sack in rice in a storage bin.
B&B Cozy Corner Café in Pahokee had an unusual variety of animals in one September 2016 inspection.
“Observed approximately 100 live roaches in cupboards where live rodent was observed,” the inspector noted, amid reports of rodent nesting materials that had fallen onto a dining room table from the ceiling. One rodent was moving in and out of a bag of flour.
In addition, inspectors reported hundreds of dead ants frozen in a freezer, observed roughly 30 spiders throughout the restaurant and piles of sawdust around door frames and wings from termite damage. The restaurant was allowed to stay open, but didn’t pass an inspection the next day either. Five days after the initial inspection, an inspector said the restaurant had passed.
However, restaurant closures for animal and/or insect problems are relatively rare. Inspectors recommended closures of restaurants 61 times in Palm Beach County in the last year, roughly one per week, for any reason. That’s roughly one closure for every 17 times an inspection flags a problem with roaches or other animals, though the closures can be done for other reasons, such as temperature violations or broken sanitizing equipment.
Restaurants of all kinds were closed by inspectors: A country club. Chain restaurants. Places in food courts. Tiny hole-in-the-wall joints. A Boca Raton ice cream shop was even closed when an inspector moved a folded, collapsed cardboard box and at least 20 live roaches scurried away.
Pinolandia, a West Palm Beach restaurant on Military Trail, was closed three different times from mid-October to mid-November. In one inspection, chicken breast was at 101 degrees. Several weeks later, chicken breast was stored at just 95 degrees. Weeks after that, some foods were stored at just 92 degrees, inspectors reported. Hot foods should be kept at least 135 degrees to limit how fast bacteria grow.
The bottom line is that food safety and sanitation regulations matter, and without them, the risk of food-borne illness increases.
Kuscher stresses that especially in Palm Beach County where an older population may have immune systems that aren’t as effective as when they were younger, food safety at restaurants is extremely important, and that’s one reason training for restaurant employees is required.
Sometimes people from other countries may have different standards, but they must comply with state regulations.
“Don’t pooh-pooh these violations. It has to be taken seriously,” Kuscher said, adding the standards are much higher than decades ago. “Today people expect not to get sick, and they shouldn’t.”