FARGO - After working in the buffet capital of the world, former Las Vegas chef Derek Kinoshita is admittedly "very anal" about food safety.
So much so that during a food safety inspection at Fargo's Yuki Hana restaurant, where he now runs the kitchen, Kinoshita said he asked the inspector to tack on an extra violation for smudges in the sushi cases, just to reinforce the message to employees.
"I gave it to them and said, 'Look at the position you just put me in,' " he recalled with a grin.
His passion for cleanliness has paid off. Yuki Hana was among 175 establishments in Fargo and West Fargo that had no critical violations during health inspections conducted from Jan. 1, 2010, to July 28 of this year.
Twenty-three establishments had at least half a dozen critical violations.
Among the top offenders was Golden Corral, which had the highest number of critical violations per inspection of any restaurant that was inspected at least three times.
A critical violation, as defined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, is more likely than other violations to contribute to food contamination, illness or environmental health hazards. For example, a food temperature violation is more likely to make someone sick than a dirty floor, which is a noncritical violation.
Fargo Cass Public Health inspectors are required by law to inspect every food service license holder at least once a year, but as an unwritten policy they try to inspect restaurants at least twice a year, said Myron Berglund, environmental services manager. That equates to three inspections in the nearly 19 months of inspection data reviewed by The Forum.
Golden Corral tallied nine critical violations and 33 noncritical violations in its five inspections during that time. The most recent inspection was the worst, with three critical and 10 noncritical violations found July 25.
The three critical violations were:
Milk stored at front counter cooler observed at 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Some leftover foods not properly date marked for shelf life.
Chili observed at buffet table at 125 degrees Fahrenheit - potentially hazardous foods must be reheated to 165 degrees and then shall be maintained at 135 degrees for hot holding.
The noncritical violations included "walls in dishwasher area are soiled with buildup of black debris," "bag of carrots stored on the floor of produce walk-in cooler" and "fryer cabinet is soiled with a buildup of grease debris."
John Burkhart, general manager at Golden Corral in Fargo, postponed an interview with a Forum reporter on Aug. 26 and was out of town when a reporter showed up at the restaurant Monday for the rescheduled interview. He did not return multiple phone messages left at the restaurant this week.
Fargo restaurant Casa Ramos had the highest number of violations overall - 14 critical and 32 noncritical - but it also was the most frequently inspected establishment in Fargo, with 11 inspections between Feb. 1, 2010, and July 20, 2011.
The Mexican restaurant had four critical violations during the most recent inspections of its food service and alcohol service licenses on July 20:
Prep cooler and drawer cooler operating at 47 degrees. Must be 41 degrees or less.
Some leftover foods are not date marked.
Can opener blade soiled with old dried food debris.
Chemical cleaner stored on same shelf as food items in bar area.
Kenny Ramos, who co-owns the business, said Casa Ramos makes much of its food from scratch every day, as opposed to pre-prepared meals served at some restaurants. Inspectors say that's one of the factors they consider when deciding how often to inspect an establishment because more food preparation steps create more opportunity for contamination that can lead to foodborne illness.
Ramos said a leaky ceiling in the front has been an ongoing problem. The health inspector also warned to keep lids on the salsa in the walk-in cooler, use a scooper instead of a glass to scoop up ice behind the bar and put a thermometer in the Pepsi Cooler out front, he said.
"He told us once and then we fixed it right away," he said.
Ramos, who plans to close the eatery Sept. 26 so he can move back to Arizona to be closer to family, said he felt the inspection process was fair.
"The toughest part is you tell your employees, but making sure they do it" is a challenge, he said.
Kinoshita said he instructs employees to clean as they go and wear plastic gloves when handling raw food. Still, it's "very challenging" meeting all food safety requirements, such as keeping food at the correct temperature and cooling soup properly before storage, he said.
Kinoshita said he has worked in the food service industry for almost 30 years in Hawaii, Las Vegas and Fargo, working alongside high-profile chefs and at standalone restaurants like Yuki Hana.
"But one thing always stays the same, is that sanitation has to be there," he said.
Types of violations
Critical violations, as defined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Food Code, are more likely than other violations to contribute to food contamination, illness and environmental health hazards
Examples of critical violations include food from unsafe sources, inadequate cooking, improper holding temperatures, contaminated equipment and poor personal hygiene.
Noncritical violations do not directly relate to foodborne illness risk but are preventive measures that include practices and procedures that effectively control environmental conditions.
Examples of noncritical violations include poor maintenance of food- and nonfood-contact surfaces, improper operation of dishwashing facilities, improper storage and handling of clean equipment and utensils, and various Dumpster violations, including failure to keep the lid closed or the drain plug in place.