El Sarape, a longtime Mexican restaurant in west Olympia, received a much better restaurant inspection at the end of May after an inspection near the beginning of the month didn’t go so well.
On May 7, two days after Cinco De Mayo, a busy day for the restaurant, the business was visited by a Thurston County environmental health specialist, who documented enough violations to automatically trigger a re-inspection later in the month.
El Sarape tallied 40 red points, 30 blue points, and anything more than 65 points total, triggers a re-inspection that costs the business $185, said Sammy Berg, a senior environmental health specialist for the county and who supervises the division that inspects restaurants.
Red points denote a more serious infraction, such as something that could directly result in a food-borne illness, while blue points are considered low risk factors for food-borne illness.
El Sarape’s follow up inspection resulted in a total of 17 points -- five red points and 12 blue points.
“Overall improvement observed -- good job,” said environmental health specialist Jerry Caird in his report.
But the May 7 inspection still looms large for El Sarape.
The Olympian regularly posts restaurant inspections from the county’s health department -- it is public information -- online and on its Facebook page, and El Sarape’s May 7 inspection lit up social media with several comments, leading the business to respond on its own Facebook page.
In a follow up interview, Christine Graham, who handles public relations for the business and who also works as a bartender at the restaurant, said the May 7 inspection does not reflect how the business operates.
“We take cleanliness seriously,” she said. “We want them all (customers) to feel comfortable and safe.”
She also said the business had just experienced one of its busiest days of the year -- Cinco De Mayo -- an all-hands-on-deck experience for employees and a day when the business is busy from opening to close. Two days later the inspector showed up, she said, adding that they can show up at any time.
That’s true, Berg said. Restaurants are inspected twice a year and inspections are unannounced.
Berg also emphasized that when critical issues are noted at a restaurant they are addressed at the time. For example, if a refrigerator is too warm, but it hasn’t been warm for very long, that food is taken out and put into another fridge. If a fridge is too warm and it has been too warm for too long, that food is thrown out, he said.
Graham, too, said past inspections of the restaurant have been fine.
Berg said El Sarape received 22 points in September 2013; 20 points in March 2013; eight points in Sept. 2012; and 20 points in Jan. 2012.
“Those are what I would consider normal scores,” he said, particularly for a restaurant with 30 or more employees. The west Olympia El Sarape has about 50, Graham said.
But as a result of a recent statewide change to the food code, red marks can be generated quickly. The state made it more of a penalty for those things that commonly result in food-borne illness, such as sick employees, lack of hand washing and direct contact with food, Berg said.
It doesn’t seem like much, he said, but a new employee, for example, who is observed not washing his/her hands, who then touches raw chicken and makes a salad, will rack up a lot of red points in a hurry.
Re-inspections are not the norm in Thurston County. The county did 1,347 inspections last year, resulting in 11 re-inspections, Berg said.