Records Show Health Dept. Violations that Closed Down Como’s
(Crystal A. Proxmire, Oct. 1, 2016)
Ferndale, MI – Closing down restaurants due to violations is rare, but according to Oakland County Health Department reports obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, Ferndale bar and restaurant Como’s (22812 Woodward) had years of repeat health code violations and failed attempts at resolution before the Oakland County Food Service Appeal Board voted unanimously to revoke their license on Sept. 21, 2016.
According to inspections going back through 2013, Como’s regularly was cited for violations of cleanliness and maintenance as well as unsafe food handling practices. In 2015 they had been in danger of closure, but made an agreement with the health department to clean up violations. The situation temporarily improved when the department did monthly inspections, but come Sept. 2015 the restaurant had gone back to unsafe practices. Over those years, many violations happened repeatedly even after the restaurant was cited and faced closure.
Como’s had also closed temporarily in Dec. 2015 when their liquor license was revoked by State of Michigan for violations related to selling alcohol to a minor and not paying fines and fees.
Since 2013 there were 32 health department inspections. Eight were routine. Two were routine follow ups. 18 were enforcement follow ups. Three were from customer complaints and one was an investigation.
Among the violations documented are:
Handwashing. One ongoing problem was the lack of basic items needed for handwashing. In 2013 they cited for not having proper signage in the employee restroom. On Aug 13, 2014 there was a lack of hot water to parts of the building due to a broken hot water tank. On Sept 18, 2014 the inspector “observed hand sink in employee restroom to be blocked by numerous items,” and noted there was no soap in the upstairs banquet area restroom and there was no paper towel or drying method at three of the facilities’ sinks. Lack of paper towel and soap was documented in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. Ashes were also found in sinks on a couple of the inspections. In 2016 the hand sink at the end of the bar had been removed completely.
Dishwashing. Inspectors noted on multiple visits from 2014-2016 that the dishwashing machines were being run without soap or sanitizer and where test strips came back with zero trace of chlorine.
Cleanliness of Restaurant. Each report listed items that were soiled or heavily soiled. The lists included soda nozzles, sinks, coolers, floors, utensils and equipment, cutting boards, walls and other places where food prep and consumption occurred.
Sewage. Reports showed problems with the sewage system, including standing water in the drains under the steam table at the cook line and in Sept. 2014 an inspector “observed sleeves of cups stored dirty under an unshielded sewer line. The plastic wrapping shows evidence of sewage leaking on them.” After instructions to move the cups from that area, the problem was only partially corrected according to the next report, which stated that the sleeves with evidence of sewage on them had been removed, but that other sleeves of cups remained in the unauthorized location. At the third inspection they were finally moved.
Smoking. In March 2014 the Health Department investigated a claim about the owner smoking inside the bar. In Sept. 2014 there was evidence of smoking at the cook line, in the lower prep kitchen and in the outside bar. In 2015 and 2016 butts continued to be found through the building including under shelves of dry food storage area and ashes in the three compartment sink in the basement and the hand sink in the back of house. In 2015 a no smoking sign had been removed from near the employee entrance.
Employee Items Stored Near Food and Dishes. During inspections over the years, employee items like coats and hats were found stored on the same racks as clean dishes. This included an inspection where an employee’s hair tie was found on the meat slicer, and lotion and toothpaste being stored in the shelf over the food pass through window.
Gloves and Hairnets. There were several violations for employees not wearing gloves when handling food such as slicing cheese and salad prep, as well as not wearing hats or other approved guards against hair falling into food. This was observed by inspectors in 2014, 2015, 2016.
Chemicals and Food. In 2013 a spray bottle of Windex was stored in a shelf directly above the open top loader at the cook line. In 2014 reports showed that chemical cleaner and chafing fuel was stored over clean equipment. In 2015 spray glass cleaner (that is not approved for cleaning dishes) was found stored with clean glasses. In 2016 there was air freshener stored next to condiments and glass cleaner stored on top of clean pizza trays.
Unsafe Food Temperatures and Other Food Storage Issues. Food temperature and disregard for food safety were common items in the violations. Food items stored in coolers should be 41 degrees or below. Also raw meats should not be in contact with ready to eat foods. In 2014 the health department found raw beef slabs left to thaw at room temperature, which is also a violation of the health code. Examples of storage issues include in 2014 when raw fish was stored next to bread in the cook line cooler, and raw chicken was store on top of ready to eat foods in the top loader next to the fryer. In 2016 there were raw eggs stored next to lettuce and ready to eat foods, raw beef stored next to ready to eat foods, and a bag of bread resting on top of a raw beef container. Food temperature issues were found over the years on multiple items. In a 2014 inspection the following items were above the temperature where they would be considered safe: minestrone soup, housemade cole slaw, housemade ranch dressing, cooked stuffing, cooked mushrooms, diced tomatoes, cooked spaghetti noodles, cut beef and raw chicken. In the same inspection there were also open containers of food stored longer than two days, including an open container of clams, housemade tuna salad, tomato juice, heavy whipping cream and an open gallon of milk. In 2015 inspections included finding raw beef stored next to bread and to lemons, and multiple foods stored at room temperature in containers stacked on top of each other. In 2016 they found lamb, beef, soup to be improper temperatures, and several items not date-marked including Alfredo sauce, pizza sauce, cooked chicken and meatballs. There was also raw beef next too cooked ribs. Several times cans of tomato sauce were stored open and uncovered, not transferred to plastic storage containers to prevent corrosion and contamination. There have also been reports of coolers without thermometers. In 2014 cans with severe dents were on the shelves presumably to be used.
Expired Food. A 2014 inspection found heavy cream at the patio bar with mold growing inside of it, open milk in the reach in cooler that was being used six days after the manufacturer’s use by date. In 2016 Como’s was found to be serving housemade ranch dressing that had expired six days before.
Insects. Reports show insects to be an ongoing problem. In 2014 Como’s was cited for having an unapproved roach fogger in the inside bar area.
There was also a fly strip hanging above the back kitchen prep table.
Upon arrival the inspector saw the sliding door and the rear door propped open, and cited them for gaps along the sides and bottoms of the back rear door. These openings undermined any pest control measures they may have had in place.
The report noted an infestation of flies and drain flies in the kitchen and bars, and that the first patio bar had bees “all over” it. There were also dead bugs in the light shields throughout the building.
In 2015 an agreement with the health department called for regular pest control that was followed only in the months when there were monthly inspections by the health department, In Sept. 2015 the insects had returned. In 2016 there was a fly strip hanging over the 3-compartment sink, over the sink where sanitation is expected to occur. The rear door had been propped open as well.
Missing Ceiling Tiles. Ceiling tiles help protect areas where people are eating and where food is being prepared. Several have been noted to be missing through the building over the past few years.
Other issues. When putting ice into glasses for people to drink, employees should be using a scoop with a handle. Several reports show that instead there were cups place in the bins instead, making it more likely that employee hands were coming in contact with the ice. Similar problems were noted with food prep, such as using a cup instead of a proper utensil on Parmesan cheese and feta cheese. The ice bins were reported soiled multiple times and in 2016 the upstairs ice bin was soiled with a “black mold-like substance.”
Maintenance issues include torn gaskets on coolers, a gap in the ventilation hood, failing to replace burnt out light bulbs even after they were noted in inspections, exposed wood flooring under missing tiles, wooden shelves that were not painted or sealed, dumpster leaking odorous fluid, and employees not trained in food safety.
The conclusions presented to the appeal board included that Como’s had been unable to comply with requirements, unable to demonstrate food safety knowledge to perform duties to prevent repeat violations from occurring, was “unable to demonstrate active managerial control at the facility,” and a lack of staff training and oversight basic food safety knowledge.
Como’s announced the closure on Facebook and with signs stating they are closed for remodeling. According to the Health Department Records, the restaurant must resolve all outstanding issues before they can re-open, as well as have ongoing training for employees, and begin using cleaning logs.
There was no answer in calls put to the restaurant and two Facebook messages to the restaurant’s page have been read, but not responded to. On Sept. 23 Como’s posted abut the closure on Facebook, stating “We will be closed for a few weeks to create a better dining experience for our guests. This major renovation includes a massive upgrade to the kitchen and dining room! We look forward to sharing our remodeled space with you. Tune into this page for updates on the remodel!”
Director of Health and Human Services for Oakland County George Miller told The Daily Tribune “This issue has been continuing and festering for the past few years,” he said. “We needed to get their attention and their license has been revoked. Like any restaurant that may struggle a bit, we expect them to get themselves back on track and reopen.”
Como’s celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2011. They opened in April 1961.
Records Show Health Dept. Violations that Closed Down Como’s