Report: 1 in 4 restaurants in Southold Town have health violations posted online

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Peconic Landing in Greenport had 11 violations, the most of any food provider in town.

Of 119 restaurants and food providers in Southold Town, 33 were in violation of county health laws during their last inspections, according to an analysis of data posted online by the county Department of Health Services.

That means 28 percent of local eateries have alleged violations listed publicly. In neighboring Riverhead, citations are detailed online for 25 percent of establishments. That number drops to 18 percent in northeastern Brookhaven Town.

Although a higher percentage of Southold restaurants were cited, it appears the violations are relatively ordinary — including employees not washing their hands in between changing gloves and restaurants not properly labeling bottles of chemicals.

All alleged infractions can be viewed on the county’s website, where a complete list of health code violations at Suffolk restaurants is available for public consumption. Inspections are conducted at restaurants, pizzerias, bars and even local public school cafeterias. No local school cafeterias were found to be in violation.

The list does not include the region’s wineries.

Greenport and Mattituck had the most offenders, with 13 out of 52 and 8 out of 26 eateries found to be in violation, respectively. The three eateries in Laurel, three in Orient and two in New Suffolk did not have a single violation. Five of 23 food providers in Southold were cited online.

The food provider that had the most infractions in town was this newspaper’s Business of the Year, and the facility that makes more meals on a daily basis than any other in town, Peconic Landing in Greenport.

The high-end life care facility, which according to its website “strives to be one of the preeminent continuing care retirement communities in the United States,” had a total of 11 health code violations, mostly pertaining to storing meat at improper temperatures.

An inspection on April 5 uncovered chicken salad stored at 63 degrees and shrimp salad stored at 67 degrees. The health department recommends meat be stored at a temperature less than 41 degrees. “Bacterial growth and/or toxin production can occur if potentially hazardous food remains in the temperature Danger Zone of 5C to 60C (41F to 140F) too long,” the department states on its website.

Peconic Landing CEO Robert Syron said all violations have been corrected and the organization is awaiting its next visit from the health department.

“These findings are not typical with how Peconic Landing interacts with government agencies,” Mr. Syron said. “Our staff has been educated. Peconic Landing takes surveys like this seriously.”

Many restaurant owners offered explanations as to why they may have had multiple violations published online, as per county law.

Wendy’s Deli on Sound Avenue in Mattituck had five violations pertaining to food stored at improper temperatures, but owner Wendy Zuhoski said a bit of bad luck on the morning of the inspection contributed to the high number. Ms. Zuhoski said that an employee had hit the refrigerator’s switch with a tray of bacon just hours before health department officials visited the deli.

Two halves of roast beef stored in a walk-in refrigerator had an internal temperature 90 degrees because they had just come out of the oven that morning, she said. The meat was discarded when it could not be cooled to the appropriate temperature.

Ms. Zuhoski said the food was thrown out on the day of the inspection, which resulted in a total of seven violations getting posted online.
“They still had to write the report,” she said.

In another case, a Greenport restaurant owner with 10 offenses — the second most in town — was able to prove he was mistakenly placed on the list. That report has since been removed by county officials.

Many violations stemmed from food displayed in unrefrigerated cases, especially at local pizzerias.

Pagano’s in Southold displayed pizza at temperatures between 77 and 96 degrees. Sausage was stored at 106 degrees at original Michelangelo in Mattituck.

Overall, 34 inspection reports containing critical violations are listed online from 119 local businesses that undergo inspections, which translates to roughly one in four eateries.

County health inspectors refer to the violations in the reports as “critical” violations. The violations “relate directly to factors which lead to food-borne illness and must be corrected immediately,” Christopher Sortino, who heads the county Bureau of Public Health Protection and oversees the county’s inspectors, told The Suffolk Times.

They are only listed online if inspectors find critical violations in two visits within a 12-month period, officials said.

Ms. Sortino said the frequency of inspections at any given establishment is set in relation to the risk of food-borne illness, as dictated by the State Department of Health.

“Most restaurants are considered high risk and are inspected twice a year; medium risk establishments are generally done once a year and low risk establishments — an example might be a bar that does not prepare food but only provides packaged foods — are done every two years,” he said.

“The great majority of food establishments under permit to the department are deemed high risk,” Mr. Sortino added.

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