The health and safety of customers is imperative for both Fairfield restaurant owners and county health officials. Regular health inspections protect consumers from food related diseases, ensure employee and customer safety within a restaurant and overall ensure that Connecticut health inspection codes are being met.
After examining 16 of the restaurants most frequently visited by Fairfield students, including the campus dining hall and The Stag, the conditions are not as pristine as expected.
Although the inspection reports of all Connecticut restaurants are open to the public, very few people decide to go to the town hall in Fairfield and check the scores for their favorite local eateries.
Even fewer Fairfield citizens file a report when they get sick from restaurant dishes or see something that is a clear violation. According to town records, the majority of issues are discovered in routine inspections.
The cleanest places to eat in Fairfield are by far restaurants that primarily serve drinks.
The Starbucks in the new Fairfield University Bookstore on Post Road scored the highest in its most recent inspection with a 100/100 rating on January 4, 2012.
Although this could be because it is brand new, the trend continues down the road at the stand-alone Starbucks at 1740 Post Rd., scoring a 98/100 recently on March 26, 2012.
Employees at this Starbucks noted that, “Cleaning constantly throughout the day is key. If you let a mess sit in the sink or on the counters, it is hard to go back and clean everything once the shop gets busy.”
Additionally, Robeks on Black Rock Turnpike scored a 99/100, losing one point for mops that were hanging to dry. The Robeks on Post Road scored another A with a 93/100.
Robeks employees practice much of the same cleaning policy as Starbucks, cleaning as they go rather than leaving a huge mess for the end of the day, although employees admit, big messes can happen when the store gets extremely busy.
On trend, the Dunkin’ Donuts on Post scored a 99/100, one of the highest restaurants in this sampled grouping.
How are they scored?
The vast majority of restaurants received passing grades. Many of their minor infractions add up to a grade that Fairfield University would consider an A or a B. Infractions are scaled from one to four, four being the most serious issues.
“While we do not use the term ‘failing,’ when a food service facility receives an inspection score below 80 or receives one or more 4-point violations, the facility is required to make the necessary corrections within two weeks and then be re-inspected,” stated Director of the Fairfield Health Department Sands Cleary.
He continued, saying, “Any immediate public health threats are resolved at the time of the initial inspection, as well as all four-point violations that can be are resolved at that time.” In some cases, the higher-level violations require equipment, plumbing or electrical repairs which would need to occur within the allotted two-week period.
Problems involving “running water, electricity, issue[s] with their method of waste water disposal or if there is an infestation” are rare but would require the restaurant’s closure, according to Cleary. These issues are often related to storms, water main breaks/repairs, sewer main blockages or the receipt of deliveries of infested products or items, he stated.
Infractions are based on a scale of one to four; four being the most serious infractions and one infractions being the least serious. All of the infractions are added up and subtracted from 100 at the close of the inspection and detailed information for each violation is on an attached sheet.
Inspections happen randomly but approximately every three months, so restaurants are not completely unaware of when an inspection will occur.
Violations, however, are not uncommon. Even more expensive restaurants in Fairfield are not perfect, and according to the local health department, most home kitchens would not pass a state mandated inspection.
Watch Out For
Pizza Palace on Black Rock is famous for distributing menus to students early in the year and even attaches a menu to each order.
Despite excellent marketing, Pizza Palace scored an 80/100 in early March, requiring a re-inspection. This inspection resulted in an even lower score with a 75/100.
In the time between the two inspections, Pizza Palace, now re-named Padova, made no improvements. They got worse.
Their violations included food containers stored on the floor, food uncovered when stored, unsanitary wiping cloths, no soap or paper towels at the employee hand sink and utensils stored on the handle of the oven.
Even on-campus eateries have flaws, and according to Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Jim Fitzpatrick, “Any campus Sodexo facility can be perfect 364 days of the year, but one day can change everything.”
When dining on-campus, the choices are all A and B rated dining facilities.
In the most recent inspections at the end of February 2012, Fairfield’s main dining hall, the dining facility in the Dolan School of Business and Jazzman’s all scored A’s and The Stag came in with a B.
Fitzpatrick noted that although The Stag scored a bit lower than the others with an 87/100, he is glad that all infractions were caught because for him and all of the other administrators, student safety is the most important concern when it comes to health and safety inspections.
He went on to state that it would be “impossible to prepare for an inspection” and that he “would never want to be tipped off and know when the inspector was coming” because that would defeat the purpose of a thorough and accurate investigation.
When it comes to health and safety, The Office of Student Affairs states, “there cannot be any compromise.” This means that student needs must be completely taken into account at all times, especially when dealing with potential health risks.
Bryan Davis, General Manager for Fairfield University dining services, also noted that Sodexo is among the most widely used catering companies worldwide.
Like Fitzpatrick, he echoed the notion that one day of mistakes can impact the health ratings for the university. He said: “Yesterday does not matter for health and safety. It only matters when it comes to today.”