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2/12/2014 2:00:00 PM
Local Restaurants Defend Food Safety Practices
By J.W. Oliver

The proprietors of the six Lincoln County restaurants to fail state health inspections in 2013 say they run clean, safe restaurants and welcome the oversight.

The half-dozen restaurants were among 161 in Maine to fail health inspections last year.

The restaurants were Mr. C's Food and Spirits, of Boothbay Harbor; Harvest Moon Pizza, of Bremen; Romeo's Pizza, Salt Bay Café, and Schooner Landing Restaurant and Marina, all of Damariscotta; and Taste of Orient, of Wiscasset.

Romeo's Pizza now has new ownership.

None of the issues at the restaurants were serious enough to classify as an imminent health hazard, and only one was temporarily closed.

All the restaurants corrected their violations, often on the day of the inspection or shortly thereafter, according to inspection reports and interviews.

The Health Inspection Program at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Division of Public Health conducts restaurant inspections.

Health inspectors check restaurants for compliance with 54 categories of regulations. The reports break these categories down into "foodborne illness risk factors and public health interventions" and "good retail practices."

The reports cite violations of similar regulations at several of the Lincoln County establishments.

The most common problem areas were employee certifications, proper hand-washing, labeling and storage of food and supplies, overall cleanliness, adequate thermometers for refrigerators and freezers, and chemical test kits.

Taste of Orient

The Wiscasset restaurant Taste of Orient racked up the most violations upon initial inspection.

Health Inspector Sondra Clark inspected the 306 Bath Rd. restaurant June 18. The restaurant had seven violations under risk factors and nine under good practices.

The inspector found issues in the common trouble areas, as well as some equipment deficiencies.

The restaurant had corrected all violations and had no new violations at the time of an Oct. 9 follow-up inspection.

Cecilio Juntura owns Taste of Orient. He did not respond to an interview request.

Romeo's Pizza

Romeo's Pizza failed inspection May 2, with seven risk factor violations and eight good practices violations. The restaurant changed hands three weeks after the inspection.

Nicholas Panagos now owns Romeo's Pizza. His parents, Mario and Beth Panagos, operate the restaurant.

"Mario works in the kitchen seven days a week and our children eat there every day after school, and I would never let them eat in a restaurant that's dirty," Beth Panagos said. "We spend a lot of time and a lot of money on keeping it clean and making sure our employees do the same."

Mario and Beth Panagos have 25 years of experience in the restaurant industry, and Beth Panagos has a degree in hotel and restaurant management from Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I.

The prior issues at Romeo's contributed to the previous owner's decision to sell.

"We knew coming into it that we would have to do some cleaning and some reorganization in the kitchen and hire some new staff," Beth Panagos said.

Salt Bay Café

Salt Bay Café, at 88 Main St. in Damariscotta, was inspected June 13. The restaurant had three risk factor violations and nine good practices violations.

Salt Bay Café had several of the common violations, as well as some equipment and facility problems.

The restaurant has since addressed all of the issues except one, Salt Bay Café Inc. President Peter Everett said.

"The only issue I have left is, I have to replace a couple of ceiling tiles that have been there ever since the restaurant has been there," Everett said.

Everett, like the other proprietors, is constantly mindful of food safety issues. "To me, the most important issue is the food," he said.

Mr. C's Food and Spirits

Mr. C's Food and Spirits failed inspection April 16. Mr. Caterer Inc. owns the restaurant, at 204 Townsend Avenue in Boothbay Harbor.

The report lists five risk factor and six good practices violations.

The restaurant had the common issues with cleanliness, food labeling and storage, food safety training and hand-washing. The report also cites the establishment for employees eating and drinking in the kitchen against regulations and some minor equipment and maintenance issues.

Restaurant management did not respond to an interview request.

Schooner Landing

Clark inspected Schooner Landing Aug. 12, finding five risk factor violations and five good practices violations.

The restaurant had the common issues with cleanliness and hand-washing, as well as coolers in need of repair and other equipment and facility maintenance issues.

Scott Folsom and Charlie Herrick own and operate the restaurant.

Schooner Landing welcomes health inspections, according to Herrick.

"It's a positive thing for us when the inspector comes in, because we have the same goal they do, which is to make sure the public is safe," Herrick said. "We work as a team, not as adversaries."

The inspector provides "a fresh set of eyes that can see deficiencies that you may not notice because you see them every day," he said.

Herrick would like to see the state strengthen regulations to require all restaurant workers to earn ServSafe certification. Right now, restaurants only have to have one person on duty with the credentials.

Herrick thinks the word "fail" can be deceiving as it relates to the inspections.

"Sometimes the public perceives that means it's unsafe to eat in that establishment," Herrick said. "If the inspector determines it's unsafe for the public to eat in that establishment, they'll shut it down."

Harvest Moon Pizza

The mobile eatery Harvest Moon Pizza was inspected June 17.

Harvest Moon Pizza had one risk factor violation and two good practices violations.

There was no water available, the temperature of the cold chicken was too high, and there were no thermometers in the cooler. The inspector temporarily closed Harvest Moon Pizza because of the lack of water.

The mobile needs hot and cold water for hand-washing and dish-washing, according to the report.

Collins said his mobile has an "elaborate portable hot water system for hand-washing." The weekend before the Monday inspection, the pump for the system broke during an event.

Collins set up for his regular visit to the Damariscotta Farmers Market before he was able to fix the pump. The farmers market takes place in the parking lot of Rising Tide Community Market.

"I mistakenly assumed that, by using (the store's) facilities, we would be in compliance with the rules of the health inspection," Collins said. "It turns out that was not acceptable."

"If I felt I was unable to provide sanitary conditions, I wouldn't operate," Collins said. "I understand the reasoning, although sometimes the regulations supersede common sense."

"I think a lot of the food safety regulations, in general, are based on large-scale productions where there's a lot of potential for food safety to be compromised," Collins said. "I think, in a smaller operation, you have more ability to keep track of your employees and your sanitary facilities."

The issue should not concern customers. The mobile has passed six of seven inspections in three years, and the closure "didn't have anything to do with any kind of problem with the food," Collins said.

"We take food safety very seriously," Collins said. "I'm ServSafe certified, so I've been trained in proper handling techniques."

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