If you dine out in the Illinois Valley chances are nearly perfect you will be enjoying an environment that is safe, sanitary and filled with employees who uphold high standards.
A NewsTribune review of all La Salle County Health Department retail food sanitary inspection reports conducted within La Salle, Peru and Oglesby in the past calendar year revealed no food service providers scoring lower than 89 out of a possible 100.
“As you can see, the high test scores show that we’ve been educating people for a long time and food service providers are also working real hard to maintain their high standards,” said Ted Pumo, La Salle County environmental health director. “The score doesn’t mean much to be honest because it’s all about food safety education.”
For years, the health department has implemented a program called Hazardous Analysis and Critical Control Points. HACCP is a risk prevention management methodology used to plan, control and document safe food practices in places that serve food to the public.
The methodology examines every aspect of the food serving process from identifying biological, chemical and physical hazards to temperature control to protect public health.
“We go in and look at how they process food and look at the critical points whether it’s how they keep food hot or store food cold,” Pumo said.
“We stay away from focusing on the point system although it is a state requirement that we document it.
“We’d much rather work toward education,” he said. “Scores are a tool; a snapshot that shows us where they are at that particular moment. But it is subjective whereas food safety is not.”
High risk concerns
Despite the high scores there were seven restaurants that were identified as having “high risk evaluations.” High Risk Evaluations are determined by IDPH to have the highest potential for food-borne illness to occur.
“Those are really a top priority for us so when we identify them it gives us a great opportunity to educate the food service provider to prevent it from happening again,” Pumo said.
Usually, such violations involved improper food storage practices or an employee who forgot to wash their hands in between tasks.
For example, Denny’s restaurant in La Salle scored a 95 overall, but was given a high risk evaluation because an employee wore the same gloves for two different tasks and another forgot to wash their hands between tasks.
Another example is Prime Time Tap in Oglesby. The tavern scored an 89, but inspectors found two packages of buns and a package of bread with mold on them. That’s something that could happen in anyone’s kitchen, Pumo said.
Not all food service providers are inspected the same. Typical restaurants that provide a wide variety of menu items that involve many different types of food preparation processes are inspected twice per year at random times.
Skoog’s Steakhouse in La Salle is an example. During its last inspection, the restaurant scored a perfect 100. But more eye-opening is that the restaurant has scored a 100 during every inspection since it opened.
Co-owner Andy Skoog says the credit belongs to Chef Charlie Klinefelter, or more commonly known as Chef Charlie.
“Back in the military we had Field Day — a day to do all of your cleaning,” he said. “For us, that’s Sunday. We get it all labeled, get it all deep cleaned. And on regular days when we’re getting food together we constantly clean as we go.”
Klinefelter admits that there are two more secrets to keeping a sanitary kitchen.
“We’ve been pretty lucky,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of family working here so when I start yelling about keeping things clean and getting hands washed they know I mean it.”
Restaurants that have limited food preparation services that sell fast food or so-called “freezer to fryer” food such as McDonald’s or Burger King are inspected annually at random.
Didoughs Twisted Pretzel Co. in Peru Mall is an example of a “freezer to fryer” restaurant. It recently scored 96 out of 100.
Didoughs owner Clay Begly said all restaurants must have at least one employee who is an IDPH certified food-handler. Didoughs has three on staff which helps keep their standards high.
Begly also admits that Didoughs is a relatively easy food service to provide. They do not handle raw meat and most everything they serve is shelf-stable.
“We have a low risk…our business is pretty easy to run,” he said. “We make sure cleaning chemicals are properly made and we wear gloves as opposed to bare hands. I think that helps keep our scores high.”
Lastly, food service providers that provide a very limited menu such as a tavern that sells frozen pizzas behind the counter are inspected once every two years.
Overall, Pumo said regardless of the type of food service business they all adhere to high standards.
“We’re pretty happy with all of them,” he said. “Restaurant owners and other food providers have all come on board and realize why this is important. All of them have been more than willing to learn.”
Kevin Caufield can be reached at (815) 220-6932 or email@example.com