Barbara Behr was finishing her plate of ginger beef and stir-fried vegetables at the New Oriental Restaurant on Ogilvie Street on March 30 when public health officials, joined by police, shut the restaurant down.
“Four police officers walked in. Of course, we just assumed they were there for lunch. Then all of a sudden one yelled out that everyone was to stop eating and vacate the premises immediately.
“We said, ‘Do we pay?’‘No, get out.’
“They just escorted everyone out and locked the door.”
She was left wondering why the restaurant was being shuttered – officers would only say it was for “health reasons.”
It turns out that earlier that morning, health officials held a snap inspection of the restaurant’s kitchen and found several big problems.
To start, the kitchen had no hot water. This alone is enough to warrant a shutdown, as it meant the dishwasher couldn’t properly kill germs.
The kitchen itself was also a mess, with surfaces coated with accumulated grease and grime.
And bins of fried meat, rice and noodles stood ready to restock the buffet table. They had sat on the kitchen counter “in the neighbourhood of 10 hours,” said Pat Living, a spokesperson for the Department of Health.
Leaving food at room temperature for that long is an invitation for bacteria to thrive.
Inspectors gave the restaurant’s cook a choice: shut down voluntarily or we’ll order you closed.
When he chose to stay open, inspectors returned with the police, who were brought along as a safety precaution.
By April 1 the restaurant had reopened, having satisfied the demands of public health inspectors.
Behr, after hearing the reasons for the closure, is upset with the health inspectors, but not the restaurant staff.
She’d like to know why, if there was a health scare, inspectors allowed lunch to be served. “I don’t think they handled it properly,” she said.
But none in her party became sick, and “I’d still go back,” she said. “I like the food and they’re very pleasant.”
It’s unusual for inspectors to shut a restaurant, although there have been several cases in the past few years when restaurant managers have voluntarily closed to avoid a shutdown order.
The loss of hot water is unusual, but problems with cleanliness and improper food handling are routinely uncovered by inspectors.
A Yukon News investigation of food safety records over the past year may cause you to rethink any plans to eat out this weekend, starting with that late-night hankering for spicy, deep-fried potato wedges.
When inspectors visited Tag’s Food and Gas in Whitehorse on January 26, they found the same spice mix was being used to coat consecutive batches of potatoes and ribs throughout the day.
“This means the batter becomes contaminated with blood and raw meats and sits at room temperature,” the report states.
And because battered potato wedges tend to clump together, some of that batter may not have fully cooked in the deep frier, allowing bacteria to survive.
Inspectors threw out the fries and ordered the store to either use separate batter mixes for the meat and potatoes, or to make one single batch of potatoes first.
Many restaurants received a rebuke for either leaving food out at room temperature or improperly thawing meat. Both practices, however common in homes, create opportunities for bacteria to thrive and may result in food-borne illnesses.
Chinese restaurants, with their lunch buffets, were among the worst offenders for sketchy food handling.
At the McCrae Chinese Restaurant on December 9, inspectors found egg rolls and cream sauce sitting out.
Mice were a problem, evident from the droppings they left behind. Rice and other foods were stored without a plastic wrap or tin-foil cover.
Shrimp were thawing on the counter. Butter had gone rancid. And the kitchen needed a thorough cleaning.
At the Green Garden Restaurant on February 18, the red sauce wasn’t being changed daily. Hamburger was thawing on the counter. But no cooked food was left out – an improvement over a March 5 inspection, which found deep-fried meats, fried rice and noodles all queued on the counter.
And when inspectors visited the Mayo Chinese Restaurant on September 9, they discovered food was being stored in garbage bags, the meat slicer wasn’t cleaned frequently and a strong sewage smell emanated from the women’s washroom.
And the problem extends well beyond chow-mein joints.
The Gold Panner Restaurant in Carmacks was scolded February 18 for reheating big batches of gravy over periods of two days. That’s a no-no, because each time gravy cools creates a window of opportunity for bacteria to grow.
Inspectors also found evidence of restaurant staff smoking in the kitchen. The counters and microwave were dirty. The hand-wash sink had no hot water. And mouse traps needed to be laid out.
Even the Yukon legislature’s cafeteria received a chiding for thawing meats on the counter when inspectors visited on December 14.
Mice frequent many restaurants. The Sakura Sushi Japanese Restaurant was advised January 20 to plug up their mouse-holes with steel wool to keep vermin out. And the Chocolate Claim was told May 21 to keep the back door shut to keep out mice. There were signs of an ant infestation, too.
The cook at Starvin’ Marvin’s on Ogilvie Street was reprimanded by inspectors December 3 for being a slob. “Operator hygiene – ensure clean, well-kept appearance at all times,” the report states. The walls, ceilings and surfaces were coated with grease and soot.
The only other restaurant to be ordered closed in the past year is Whispering Willows Restaurant in Stewart Crossing, which remains shut.
When inspectors visited July 17, they found a long list of infractions.
The kitchen was filthy. The floor was coated with grease and grime. Cupboards, counters, fridges and coolers also all needed a thorough cleaning. Dead bugs lay beneath the windows.
To top it off, the cook was smoking in the kitchen and the washroom was squalid and had no toilet paper.
When inspectors returned on September 11, they found the kitchen as filthy as ever. A plate of beef was sitting at room temperature on the counter. And inspectors were compelled to remind the owner, “Pets are not allowed in kitchen – dogs observed at time of inspection.”
Contact John Thompson at