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Updated: Wednesday, November 6 2013, 03:18 PM ESTBlack mold,cross-contamination and bugs found in the food, these are just a few ofthe violations we uncovered at popular restaurants in Asheville but that won't keep them from getting an "A" grade from county inspectors. News 13's investigative reporter Mike Mason has this Reality Check on what's really going on behind the kitchen doorPeter Estrada has owned "Circle in the Square pizza restaurant in DowntownAsheville for the past 10 years. It's a small business supported bylocal customers. Estrada says things were going great until justrecently when the tables turned against him. This past September, aBuncombe County food inspector gave his restaurant a score of 83.5,which is considered a B-minus. That's the lowest score in the entirecounty.Estrada remembers how he felt when the inspector issuedthe rating saying, "It was kind of staggering to know it was the lowestscore, it was a wake-up call, obviously, but it was a shock becausethroughout my 10 years of running restaurants in Asheville I've had anaverage score of about 95."A perfect score is 100 and anythingwith a 90 or above is considered an "A" grade. Currently, allrestaurants in Buncombe County either have a grade of "A" or "B" andnone have been issued a "C" grade or below. Most of the points deductedfrom Estrada's restaurant were for technical issues such as not havinghis paperwork in order. Other violations included not having foodcontainers labeled properly, missing a required food thermometer andusing a piece of cardboard to replace a broken cover to the ice machine. So does that low score mean his pizza place is the dirtiest restaurantin town? Not according to Estrada, "I would say it's unfair and I needto be judged on the same criteria every other restaurant is judged."We decided to see how inspectors judged other restaurants in Asheville.David Mease supervises county food inspectors and tells us, "Whenthey're doing an inspection we look at one, where it's re-occurring andtwo, the severity of it."We checked out Homegrown, a popularlocal restaurant on Merrimon Avenue. Last month they received a score of 95. Inspectors noted they did not have food containers properlylabeled. In fact, Homegrown was cited for this twice during their last 3 inspections but each time the inspector did not deduct any points. Circle in the Square, however, was written up for that same violation thispast September and the inspector deducted one point. Estrada says,"Obviously I don't feel it's fair."News 13s investigative reporter Mike Mason asked Mease, "Is that fair?"Mease replied, "You know, I wasn't there and we rely on our staff to usetheir best professional judgment when they're in the field." This past March, an inspector also noted Homegrown was in violation forhaving: "Food stored below exposed sewer lines in the basement".We asked Mease about this and he said, "That doesn't mean that there wassewage dripping onto the food what it means is that our rules prohibitfood from being stored below exposed sewer lines."Masoncontinued to question Mease asking, "But it's cited because it coulddrip, it could happen. Otherwise it wouldn't be there right?" Measethen replied, "Correct, correct."Homegrown's owner tells us the line wasn't active and has since been capped off. Mela Indian Restaurant on North Lexington avenue received a score of 96.5last month. During their last 3 inspections, Mela was written up fornot having food containers labeled properly. Each time no points werededucted. Estrada says he doesn't understand why he was docked onepoint for the same thing, "How could one restaurant be cited for it andthe other ones not? Especially after repeat offenses, it just makes nosense."Mease admits, "I can see where they could think they're being picked on possibly but I was not there to witness the inspection ineither of these cases."This past May, an inspector also noted:"The ice machine (at Mela) is in need of cleaningthere is black mold in contact with the water and ice." Again, no points were deducted. Mela's owner, Catherine Cambron gave us the following statement: "This is achallenging business and local businesses are good for our community. We have healthy and good food and we are proud of our score. People makemistakes on occasion and we work hard to improve things." SunnyPoint Caf on Haywood Road in Asheville received an "A" grade on theirlast 3 inspections but the manager didn't want to talk to us about them. Sunny Point's latest inspection was last September when an inspectornoted the restaurant must: "Clean and sanitize the ice machinefrequently to prevent mold growth." No points were deducted even though that same violation was noted back in June.According to Mease,mold isnt a major concern saying, "I am not aware of a food-borneillness linked to mold or pink slime growing in an ice machine." Wealso found Sunny Point was cited for having a problem with flies duringtheir last 3 inspections.In September, an inspector warned therestaurant: "Do not place fly strips over food or food prep areas." One point was deducted. We found the restaurant had a point deducted forfly violations in all 3 of their last inspections. In June, theinspector wrote Sunny Point must make sure: "Dead insects and insectfragments are prevented from..falling on exposed food."Masonasked Mease, "So fly strips over food prep areas, you're just going toget one point and that's it? Mease replied, "I was not there towitness the inspection."Salsas Restaurant on Patton Avenue inAsheville has also maintained an "A" grade, scoring a "93" lastSeptember. When we tried to question the manager he replied, We'regoing to do no comment." During Salsa's last inspection the manager waswarned to: "Clean (the) diaper changing table immediately. Debris from??? was on it." No points were deducted for this but Mease tells us,"Points should be deducted. When asked why they werent he replied, It may have been the first time they saw that problem."Theinspector did take off one and a half points after finding: "Pink moldon the shield" of the ice machine. This was listed as a repeatviolation. Another repeat violation was noted, stating: "Windows (must)havefly curtain, fan for prevention of insects." We found inspectorshave been citing Salsas for more than a year for that same violationand each time they only deducted one point.Mason asked Measeabout this, "So even though it shows up on the last several inspectionsthere's no enforcement?" Mease contends, "The enforcement is deductingthe points on the inspection report."Click here if you'd like to check out restaurant scores for yourself. Investigative Report: Behind The Kitchen Door Part I
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