1. Strain on health department impacts
Emma Ea Ambrose
The Harbor City Restaurant in downtown Lafayette, Ind., was shuttered after
a health inspection found cockroaches and maggots and dozens of other
violations. (Dwight Adams/Lafayette Journal and Courier) Wochit
LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Images from a July inspection of Harbor City paint a
picture of filth and long-term neglect — from the dirt-encrusted surfaces to
the maggots on the floor.
Of the 50 health code violations, the insect infestation spelled a temporary
closure for the Chinese restaurant, of which a judge ordered the closure in
Just eight months before, the Tippecanoe County Health Department cited
Harbor City for 36 health code violations, including the presence of live and
2. dead cockroaches. When the health department followed up in November,
inspectors found 19 violations, including unclean equipment. The severity of
the violations merited another inspection within 30 days to ensure the worst
offenses had been corrected.
But that never happened.
In fact, the follow-up didn't occur until July 6. Two days later,
Judge Don Daniel issued an injunction, on the health department's
recommendation, closing the restaurant.
It's not the first time the health department did not follow up promptly with a
restaurant after finding serious violations, exposing the public to potential
health and safety threats, including food-borne illnesses.
That risk is further compounded by an incomplete inspection database,
which is not consistently maintained by the health department, leaving
consumers unable to access information in a timely manner during which it's
most likely to impact their well-being.
Health officials say the department is "stretched thin" because of a growing
number of restaurants in Tippecanoe County and point to a rotation in
inspectors for the lack of oversight. County officials say help is on the way,
and the transition of a part-time position into a full-time will help absorb the
growing workload of inspectors.
But it's unclear whether those measures will be enough to bring the
department up to speed as the dining landscape continues to expand and
consumers demand more information about where their food is produced.
Repeat offenders often get away with violations
In the three years he has worked at the health department,
administrator Craig Rich said he couldn't recall the last time his office had to
forcibly close a restaurant.
3. But the conditions at Harbor City were so dire and unsafe the department
asked the restaurant to close voluntarily. When the owner refused, the health
department sought the injunction.
News of the forced closure struck a collective nerve with diners, sparking
outrage and disgust over the conditions in the kitchen and raising questions
about restaurant inspection methods.
"The Harbor City thing has really got me bothered. I donʼt know how they
got opened back up," said Dan Paul of Lafayette, who regularly dines out.
The health department allowed Harbor City to reopen less than a week after
Daniels had shut it down, citing danger to the public.
According to Rich, no "magic number" of violations exists that will prompt
the health department to shutter a restaurant.
Most of the time, restaurant closures are voluntary, Rich said, and occur
because of some event beyond the establishment's control — like a flood or
fire. These events so severely impact a restaurant's ability to function and
follow the health code that it typically ends up self-reporting to the health
Although it is rare, habitual non-compliance — especially in terms of critical
violations — also can shut down a restaurant, said Krista Click, director of
the Indiana State Department of Health.
Health departments divide citations into two categories: critical and non-
critical violations. Critical violations, according to sanitation requirements,
are violations of code that "may result in an unacceptable health risk." Non-
critical violations are breaks of code that do not immediately endanger
No single violation is severe enough to cause a restaurant closure before a
follow-up, Rich said. The proprietors are generally informed of the violation
4. and given a time frame in which to correct the violations. Depending on the
severity of the offense, an inspector attempts a follow-up within 24 hours to
In practice, however, follow-ups often occur well outside that window and
sometimes not at all.
• DT Kirby's received an inspection in May 2015. The report indicated the
restaurant had six critical violations and seven non-critical.
One violation included an employee repeatedly putting on gloves without
washing his/her hands. According to the department's records, no follow-up
visit occurred and an inspector did not visit the establishment again until
July 2016. During that visit, Kirby's received eight critical and four non-
• In October 2015, inspectors found seven critical and 16 noncritical
violations at New Cheng Du. There was no follow-up and the restaurant has
not been inspected since, according to health department records.
• China Dragon received eight citations for critical violations in
2015, including a can of RAID stored under a soda machine. No follow-up
• Other habitual offenders like China 1 and Steak N' Shake on Meijer Drive
received no follow-ups after visits in 2014 and 2015, despite citations for
In rare instances, some establishments went without inspection for more
than a year. Sunrise Diner, which does not have a history of critical violations,
did not receive an inspection between December 2013 and July 2015.
(Inspection information was drawn from databases maintained by the health
department and the Journal & Courier, which is compiled from data provided
5. by the health department. In many cases, the information on the two sites
does not match, with the health department database often lacking
The Journal & Courier reached out to restaurants with a history of repeat
offenses, but only DT Kirby's was willing to comment.
County growth, staff shortage cause lags in inspections
The health department is responsible for the inspection of 700 Tippecanoe
County restaurants, as well as monitoring school cafeterias, catering
businesses, grocery stores, food trucks and transient food vendors. Rich
said the health department tries to inspect each restaurant twice a year, and
that doesn't include follow-ups and training.
But Rich said the food safety branch of the health department is stretched
thin. Currently, the office employs three full-time and one part-time
employees. Lags in follow-ups and inspections also may occur because
restaurant lists rotate through inspectors.
"Sometimes, a lag, itʼs intentionally done to rotate. You donʼt want the same
inspectors dealing with the same restaurants. Sometimes that is one of the
negatives," Rich said.
Tippecanoe County commissioners recently approved the conversion of the
part-time position to a full-time position. If approved by the county council,
the position will go into effect in 2017.
Commissioner David Byers said he wasn't aware of any serious oversights or
delays regarding restaurant inspections. As business and the food industry
grow in Greater Lafayette, however, he said the county needs more
According to Rich, 96 restaurants have opened in Tippecanoe County in the
past two years. Rich, however, was unable to provide a number of
6. restaurants that have closed during the same time frame.
"The mystery is that we donʼt have a fixed number of closed restaurants
during that time frame as they are much harder to track and log into the
(data)base," Rich said.
The additional position, Byers and Rich hope, will mean more efficient
inspections and follow-ups.
"We are just trying to get it a little more organized. We are trying to
modernize a little bit," Byers said.
But some restaurants are falling through the cracks even earlier.
For example, Heirloom Restaurant and Digby's Pub and Patio opened
about a year ago, but both establishments were only recently inspected. The
department is supposed to inspect the new facilities within 30 days.
Rich said those delays are atypical.
"I do not know why this occurred. It is our policy to do an inspection within
30 days or so of an opening. How this fell through the cracks, I donʼt know.
We will make sure that this does not happen in the future," he said.
Department provides multiple avenues to address violations
Although inspectors don't always make visits within the specified time frame,
the majority of restaurants with critical violations receive a follow-up within a
From that first follow-up appointment, however, the health department
offers numerous opportunities for a restaurant to clean up its act before
it might be shut down for violations.
"Itʼs only when the follow-up doesnʼt work that we move on to bigger and
better things," Rich said.
7. That includes fines for repeated violations. The health department cannot
provide a breakdown of how many fines have been issued to which
restaurants because of the way the records are kept, according to
administrative assistant Stacie Rees.
The first two citations for a violation do not incur a fine. If the same critical
violation is present for a third time during a follow-up, however, a fine of $50
will be levied against the business, $100 for a fourth violation and $200 for a
Then inspectors might suggest closing the restaurant to address sanitation.
At that point, Rich said, most restaurants will voluntarily shut down. If an
establishment doesn't, the department seeks a court order to have the
restaurant closed, as it recently did with Harbor City.
As soon as inspectors entered Harbor City, Rich said they knew the
restaurant would have to close — at least temporarily. The infestation of
insects put it over the edge, he said.
"It was the maggots crawling on the floor," Rich continued. "That tells a
whole picture of complete filth. When they are able to breed on the floor,
there is no cleaning."
The restaurant was fined $200 in October because of a malfunction with the
dish washing machine.
To the restaurant's credit, Rich said, employees were able to clean the place
up and meet every one of the health department's demands and pass
inspection, which is why Harbor City was allowed to reopen not long after its
"Weʼll keep a close eye on them," Rich said.
Still, that may not be enough.
8. Rich said a major challenge for ethnic restaurants like Harbor City can be
a language barrier.
"A language and cultural barrier is part of the problem," Rich said.
Many area establishments — especially those serving Asian cuisine, Rich
said — have employees and proprietors who do not speak English as their
first language. Rich said it's not that they don't want to comply, but often
significant non-compliance arises because of difficulty understanding health
code standards written in English.
In situations in which a language barrier and repeated non-compliance exist,
Rich said, the health department offers on-site training for owners and staff,
although his office does not employ a translator for the sessions. The
sessions, however, are not mandatory. They are a courtesy offered by the
department — one Harbor City did not elect to take advantage of, according
"Our goal is not to shut anyone down, we really do try to work with people,"
Challenges of adhering to code impact everyone
Even if owners and managers are up-to-date on regulations and ever
vigilant, however, the establishment still may be vulnerable to a citation. This
is because employees, servers, cooks, busboys and other staff, are all
essential in keeping a restaurant up to code, said Amanda Deering, a Purdue
University professor and member of the Center for Food Safety Engineering.
"A lot of it is your employees," Deering said.
And few incentives exist for employees to follow code, especially in terms of
calling in sick.
"If you take a day off," Deering said, "youʼre not getting paid."
9. Buy Photo
Sarah Reinert prepares a chicken breast salad at Java Roaster, 130 N.
Third Street, Monday, July 25, 2016, in downtown Lafayette. (Photo:
John Terhune/Journal & Courier)
Sarah Reinert, general manager at Java Roaster, agreed that
continually educating employees was the most important part of following
code. Java Roaster is one of the few recently inspected restaurants in
Tippecanoe County with no critical violations.
"Things can get muddled. I would say the training aspect and getting
everyone on the same page is the most difficult aspect," Reinert said.
Beyond education, it is essential to foster a team atmosphere, said Ray
Brown, manager of catering service Sgt. Preston's Outpost. The failure of
one then becomes the failure of the group.
"We set up our systems to reflect the way the health department would like
10. it done. Weʼre a team, and we try to be conscious," Brown said.
"It's really hard not to get a violation," Reinert said. "Period."
Although Java Roaster and the Outpost had few violations, both managers
acknowledge the inevitability of some mistakes and said they are happy to
have an outside entity like the health department to assess conditions and
act as a resource.
Eric Grossman, a part-owner of DT Kirby's, said the restaurant has had only
positive experiences with the health department, including Rich coming to
the restaurant after the most recent inspection to assist in getting it up to
"We worked through the issues together," he said.
Grossman said he found some of the health code confusing and a little
arbitrary. In the most recent inspection, for example, DT Kirby's received a
critical for not having test strips in a certain location but a non-critical for a
hole in the floor. Additionally, Grossman said, the staff laughed because they
were cited for not putting expiration dates on hot dogs, which, at the rate the
establishment serves them, felt superfluous.
Nevertheless, Grossman said, "we did update and correct our procedure."
All other violations also were corrected within 48 hours, he added.
Patrons said they appreciate the challenge restaurants face of adhering to
an intricate health code while also trying to run a successful business.
"Criticals ... never really stopped me from eating anywhere," said Dylan Mills,
who works and eats in downtown Lafayette. "Oftentimes, those criticals are
very simple — like having ice in the hand sink. Itʼs just frozen water; itʼs not
that big of a deal."
11. For C. Gibson, ignorance is bliss.
If she knows about certain issues or violations, she said she will avoid an
establishment, but that information often is difficult to come by or not up-to-
date, which is why she advocates for signs posted in restaurant windows or
doors with a grade and inspection date. She used to live in Nashville, Tenn.,
where the state required such measures.
Rich said posting scores and inspection dates is a policy that might soon be
"The state is preparing their food code so this may be something that
happens with that. Weʼre playing the waiting game with that. Whatever they
adopt, we have to adopt," Rich added.
According to the Indiana State Department of Health media relations
spokesman Ken Severson, however, "the revisions to state rules addressing
sanitation requirements for food established are still in draft form, so it
hasnʼt been determined yet whether language regarding signage about
previous inspections will be included."
Kentucky is the only neighboring state that affords restaurants letter grades
and also posts placards in establishments so customers may view the grade
before dining. Illinois does not require restaurants to post the details of the
inspection but counties publish the names of restaurants that receive a
failing inspection score. Many counties in other neighboring states, like
Illinois, also publish this information.
The Tippecanoe County Health Department is required to wait 10 days
before making inspection reports public. The time it takes for the reports to
go online, however, often exceeds 10 days, potentially putting at risk diners
who eat at the restaurant before the violations are fixed.
Should the state adopt it, signage might allow more immediate access to
12. data for consumers. For instance, placards detailing previous inspections or
providing a summary grade would allow customers to directly assess the
sanitation standards of an establishment on-site instead of searching online.
Restaurant-goer Brianna McClimans said more public awareness and
information surrounding restaurant sanitation would be useful. She doesn't
typically check the health department's inspection records, but the Harbor
City incident has her worried.
"I probably will from now on," McClimans said.
Call J&C reporter Emma Ea Ambrose at 765-431-1192. Follow her on Twitter:
View recent inspections
The health department regularly provides the Journal & Courier with
restaurant inspections, which you can view here.