Area restaraunts cited for health violations, including rodents

The D.C. Department of Health closed 15 local restaurants in the past three years, including three using the GWorld system, because of sanitation problems including rodent infestation, cooking at the wrong temperature and using unclean equipment.

Three of the 15 restaurants, Panda Caf?, Mehran Restaurant and Papa John’s Pizza, which are all located along Pennsylvania Avenue, take GWorld and said students constitute a significant percentage of their customers.

Ronnie Taylor, D.C. Department of Health’s area supervisor, said restaurants are inspected four times each year and must post at least a 70 percent sanitation rating to remain open. Restaurants that have between 70 and 85 percent ratings receive a two-week notice to comply with the health code.

Restaurants given a sanitation rating of less than 70 lose their licenses until they comply with the health code. Taylor said restaurants often lose their license only to reopen within a few days.

“You can get a professional to come in and exterminate,” he said.

Panda Caf? was last shut down on Jan. 3 because of inadequate plumbing fixtures, unclean surfaces and equipment and having no hot water on the premises. It posted a 62 percent sanitation rating and reopened the next day at 86 percent.

According to the Food and Drug Administration’s Web site, bacteria from unclean equipment in restaurants can lead to food poisoning or, in some cases, Hepatitis A. Using hot water to clean surfaces and equipment kills these bacteria before it reaches customers’ plates.

Panda Caf? manager Lisa Zheng blamed the restaurant’s previous lack of hot water on a broken water heater that was fixed immediately following the inspection. However, she conceded, “You need hot water to clean.”

“It was a little problem,” she said. “We were so mad when they closed us down.”

Panda Caf? was also shut down by the Department of Health in March 2004 for more serious sanitation problems, including evidence of rodents in the restaurant. The restaurant was also cited for cooking foods at improper temperatures, which can cause salmonella, E. coli poisoning and food poisoning, according to the FDA.

Since the closures, Panda Caf? has undergone serious renovations, Zheng said, including the replacement of tables, floor tiles and water pipes. She noted that employees now clean the restaurant “every night.”

Mehran’s health violation was issued in May 2002. Posting a 50 percent sanitation rating at the time of its closure, the restaurant was forced to shut down for two days. Like Panda Caf?, its problems included using unclean surfaces and equipment to prepare food and cooking potentially hazardous food at improper temperatures. The restaurant was also fined $1,000 due to rodent infestation.

Manager Muhammad Amir said Mehran underwent renovations in December 2004 in which he replaced the restaurant’s paneling, ceiling and water pipes.

“We changed everything,” he said. “It’s clean.”

Both Papa John’s, at 2525 Pennsylvania Ave., and Tequila Grill, located at 1990 K Street, shared problems similar to Panda Caf? and Mehran. Closed in December 2004 and September 2003, respectively, both restaurants were cited for using unclean equipment to handle food and neglecting plumbing fixtures needing repair.

D.C. health laws have no provision to enforce harsher penalties on repeat sanitation violators such as Panda Caf? and Prince Caf?.

“So long as you comply with D.C. health code, there’s nothing that stops repeat offenders from being able to reopen,” Taylor said.

Freshman Thomas Cornelis laughed when asked about his prior experiences eating at Panda Cafe.

“I’m already on a Panda Caf? boycott,” he said, because of a problem involving his GWorld card. “It’s really not the best Chinese food.”

Many students said the sanitary violations issued to Mehran and Panda Caf? would discourage them from returning to the restaurants.

“It doesn’t determine if I would go there or not,” said freshman Brendan Hennessey, who has dined at both Panda Cafe and Mehran. “I’d keep going because I think that they’ve cleaned up their appearance.”

To learn more about restaurants and health issues, visit the news section of the D.C. Department of Health online at dchealth.dc.gov.

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