13 Undercover

Health department's frequent restaurant offenders

Friday, November 22, 2013

After Thanksgiving, a lot of us will get tired of eating leftover turkey and go out to eat. Before you do, you need to see the list of restaurants that have had problems with health code violations in recent years.

We analyzed a five-year period of health inspection reports from 2008 through 2012, the last complete calendar years available. All to figure which Houston restaurants had a history of the most violations in that period. And we also looked at how they're doing this year.

Kim Son near downtown on Jefferson comes in at No. 5 on our list with 221 health code violations from 2008 through 2012. Among them, inspectors found improper food temperatures eleven times in 2011. But Kim Son has received fewer violations this year, for a total of 228 violations.

The owner says new refrigeration equipment helps keeps food at safe temperatures.

"We changed, all new refrigerators. It's brand new and now we don't have that problem anymore," Kim Son owner Tri La said.

No. 4 is Taqueria Los Reyes on North McCarty. During the five-year period we analyzed, they got 236 violations. An inspector wrote in 2012, "I ran my hand along the inside of the ice machine and got a handful of black slime." That inspector condemned 400 pounds of ice from that machine.

The health department forced the restaurant to upgrade its refrigeration, and since then, violations have dropped in 2013, for a total of 246 violations. No comment from the manager when we dropped in.

At No. 3 is Chacho's on the North Freeway, with 234 health violations over the five years. Inspectors observed pink and black slime in chutes of ice machine and more temperatures that were off for potentially hazardous food.

"We are aware of the violations that we've had at this location in the past five years," Chaco's manager Harold Robertson said.

The restaurant had a number of violations this year before the new management came on board, bringing their total to 271.

"Our goal is to score 100 percent on all future health inspections. We're both certified in food service safety from the Houston Health Department and we work alongside our employees all day long, training them on the procedures of the health department," Robertson said.

China Star is No. 2 with 221 health department violations. This inspection from October 2012 shows the health department condemning 49 pounds of "food not safe for human consumption" because it was stored at an improper temperature overnight and raw meat in same container with cooked food.

The manager wouldn't talk, but instead took video of us. We found in 2013, their problems continue, including voluntarily closing for a short time last month after inspectors found food not safe for human consumption, insects and improper food temperatures. It brings their total to 277 violations.

We asked the Houston Health Department's Kathy Barton why restaurants with repeated problems are allowed to stay open.

"We'll we're really not designed to be a punitive operation. They are meeting the minimum standards. We work with them as much as we can to make sure they are in compliance with the ordinance," she said.

And finally, at No. 1 is New King Palace on Tomball Parkway. Inspectors have been out here 51 times over the five-year period. More than half the time, inspectors gave them poor scores. But on 47 percent of those visits, the problems were minor, according to the department.

Inspectors found a total of 274 violations over the five years and more in 2013, for a grand total of 318 violations. They noted "potentially hazardous food" not maintained at proper temperature in 2012 and 2011 and different types of raw food mixed together in 2012, which can cause cross contamination.

No one there would talk to us either. Although their last three inspections, they've scored better.

"We have worked with them, we have written a lot of citations, we have condemned a lot of food. We're continuing to work with them and trying to bring them into compliance," Barton said.

If you want to see scores for your favorite restaurants, go to our weekly restaurant report and search for it by name or by your zip code.

Find Brian on Facebook at ABC13BrianCollister or on Twitter at @BrianCollister

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