Despite its waterfall, Indochine Asian Dining Lounge has had trouble keeping its nose clean with the Pierce County Health Department
Indochine Asian Dining Lounge was shut down for one night last week after the Pierce County Health Department conducted a probation inspection of the Pacific Avenue eatery.
The health department slapped Indochine for violating code 0500 of the county's food regulations, which cover bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat foods.
"One of the chefs touched a garnish with his bare hand," Ly Ngov, an owner and manager of Indochine, said of incident, which occurred between lunch and dinner service on Wednesday.
The health department requires cooks to wear gloves or use tongs used when handling food that's served uncooked or when plating food that has been previously cooked. Garnish falls into the uncooked, don't-touch-it-with-your-bare-hands category.
The bare-hands infraction that led to Indochine's one-night closure was the restaurant's third 0500 violation since Aug. 9, 2005, according to Indochine's inspection history on the Pierce County Health Department's Web site.
Wednesday's inspection also turned up a fourth violation of code 1600, which covers procedures for cooling cooked foods.
Indochine passed a follow-up re-inspection on Thursday morning and was allowed to re-open.
Indochine has been on probation since January. If it repeats these violations, the restaurant's permit will be suspended for seven days while corrective action is taken, said Diane Westbrook, a food safety supervisor for the Pierce County Health Department.
In addition to three 0500 violations and four 1600s, Indochine's inspection report shows 20 other critical violations for infractions ranging from hand-washing to chemical storage to consumer warnings for raw or undercooked foods. The health department's online records go back to August 2005. Indochine opened in July 2005.
The health department says critical violations, if left uncorrected, are more likely than other violations to directly contribute to food contamination or food-borne illness.
There have been no reports of illness from food contamination or food-borne bacteria at Indochine.
The health department put Indochine on 12 months' probation in January, Westbrook said. While on probation, Indochine is subject to re-inspection every two months. The health department has met with Indochine's owners and discussed corrective actions, Westbrook said.
"I'm not trying to say that we're not trying to comply with the health department," Ngov said, "because our record shows that we do comply with them."
Indochine's inspection report shows a roller-coaster record of critical violations and corrections.
"When it gets to that point when they're constantly repeated, then there's the potential for food-borne illness to occur," Westbrook said. "The health department is all about preventing that from occurring."
Ngov said Indochine lost about $8,000 in dinner business from last week's one-night closure. She said Indochine had to cancel about 100 reservations, including two large parties from pharmaceuticals companies.
"We feel that it was such a minor infraction for closure," Ngov said. "I compare it to a sushi restaurant where the sushi chef is in contact with the food when he's rolling it."
It's not OK for sushi chefs to handle sushi this way.
TNT photo by Peter Haley
So firm was Ngov in her argument that she visited five sushi restaurants prior to meeting with health department officials on Thursday. She took pictures of sushi chefs handling raw fish and sticky rice with their bare hands. She showed her evidence to the health department.
"They told me my assumption is not correct," Ngov said.
"Bare-hand contact seems to be an issue with many restaurants," said Westbrook, whose department includes 10 inspectors that handle 3,000 establishments ranging from restaurants to grocery stores to strip clubs.
"Often times when the health inspector shows up, the gloves go on," Westbrook said. "We do cite it when we see it."
Indeed, a search of sushi restaurants in Pierce County shows a number of critical violations -- as well as many corrections -- of code 0500, including these Tacoma restaurants: Gari of Sushi, Fujiya Japanese Restaurant, Kabuki Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Tama.
Incidentally, all of these food-safety topics are covered in the health department's Food Worker Card Class, a mandatory examination and certification for all food-service workers in Pierce County. Managers, like Indochine's Nvog, undergo more intensive training.
Failure to comply with Food Worker Card certification is a critical violation of the health department's code 0200. Indochine's available records show 0200 compliance.
This is the way the Pierce County Health Department requires sushi to be handled -- with gloves.
Associated Press photo