False food report from Fort Leonard Wood frustrates area restaurants
By: Darrell Todd Maurina
Posted: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 6:15 pm
PULASKI COUNTY, Mo. (May 25, 2010) — Just because something’s on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true.
Contrary to a widely circulated email claiming to be from staff members at Fort Leonard Wood, Domino’s Pizza hasn’t failed its health inspection. Neither has El Jimador’s Mexican Restaurant, nor Papa John’s Pizza.
Same for the Subway on VFW Drive in St. Robert, China Buffet on Missouri Avenue, or Crazy Jack’s in Waynesville, or the Veterans of Foreign Wars posts in Laquey or Crocker.
In fact, according to Pulaski County Public Health Director Donna Brashear, none of those restaurants have significant problems in their routine inspections, and the county isn’t currently trying to get state inspectors to shut down any restaurants anywhere in Pulaski County because of health problems.
That’s good news for Justin Polson, general manager of Domino’s Pizza, the first restaurant named on an e-mail claiming to be written by Pala Johnson of DFMWR Unit Funds on Fort Leonard Wood. The e-mail says a “New listing for approved vendors is out” and names eight restaurants that, according to the e-mail “have been DISAPPROVED because they failed their health inspection.”
While the e-mail says the list will be updated “as the restaurants receive approval,” Polson said the widely circulated e-mail has already caused serious damage not only to his business but also that of others.
“This last weekend was horrible and so far this week we’ve seen enough of a decrease to say it’s not a normal fluctuation. Something is affecting us and I think a lot of people were worried about these e-mails,” Polson said.
The Fort Leonard Wood e-mail has been circulating for some time, but Polson said he didn’t take it seriously at first.
“I had heard a small amount two weeks ago; I completely blew it off as a word-of-mouth rumor. I was not aware of the e-mail until this weekend when I had about four people call me on Saturday and five on Sunday asking when we failed our inspection,” Polson said.
Polson’s restaurant uses internet marketing, Facebook, and other social media, so he became even more concerned when a copy of the Fort Leonard Wood e-mail appeared on the Pulaski County Web, a local community discussion site which hosts article comments for the Pulaski County Daily News but is under separate ownership and editorial control.
“A good friend of mine said, ‘This is going around now in the Pulaski County Web and then I realized this is a pretty dire circumstance with false information going around. Lots of people read that site and we needed to do something,” Polson said. “So I called Papa John’s and said, ‘I know we haven’t had a bad inspection, did you fail an inspection?’ and they said, ‘No, we didn’t either.’”
Polson said he then called Pala Johnson’s phone number on the e-mail. He didn’t get to speak with Johnson, but wasn’t happy when another person in the office said the e-mail wasn’t intended for public distribution but didn’t know what would be done to address the problems caused once the letter was distributed to the public.
“I called her office, she was out of the office, and they gave me the person who does say ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ and after speaking to that gentleman, he said they had a meeting on Fort Leonard Wood about the email and they are planning to respond,” Polson said. “They didn’t know why that email was sent out. I pretty much tried to tell them what we need is to get the word out into all the community that this is not true; we did not fail our health inspections.”
Since Fort Leonard Wood didn’t issue a statement explaining the e-mail, Polson contacted area media as well as Rick Lepard, the owner of the Pulaski County Web, who quickly posted the Domino’s Pizza response to the Fort Leonard Wood e-mail.
“You’re more than welcome to go on the Pulaski County Health Department’s website and see our inspection. We did not fail,” Polson said. “We had two problems, and they were corrected immediately on-site before the inspector left.”
That’s correct, according to Pulaski County Health Department online records that are publicly available on the internet.
The most recent county health inspection for Domino’s Pizza was on March 1.
That inspection was routine, which means it wasn’t a follow-up to a previously problematic inspection, and found no issues that warranted a re-inspection. The two violations were that Italian sausage and pepperoni on the prep table were not maintaining a temperature of 41 degrees or lower; the pepperoni was 43 degrees and the Italian sausage was 44 degrees. In addition, a bottle of sanitizer, which is considered a “poisonous or toxic material,” was stored on a shelf with spices. Both problems were corrected on-site, according to the report.
Most of the other restaurants listed in the Fort Leonard Wood e-mail were comparable.
El Jimador restaurant had to install a new prep cooler which was properly installed upon re-inspection on Sept. 3, 2009.
An inspection of Papa John’s facilities on Nov. 17, 2009 determined that the pizza cutting board was not easily cleanable, that excessive dust buildup was present on the vent hood, and that an unshielded light bulb in walk-in cooler presented a glass breakage hazard. In addition, broken wall tiles were located next to the mop sink, excessive dirt buildup was on the floor under the oven and behind the white cooler next to the oven; those problems were fixed when called to management’s attention.
In the St. Robert Subway, food employees were observed not washing hands although a handwashing sink was provided in the kitchen; that problem was corrected during a subsequent inspection March 11.
Two restaurants, the VFW posts in Crocker and Laquey, aren’t even on the internet inspection list because they were last inspected prior to September 2009 when the health department first started posting online inspections.
As head of the health department, Brashear concurred that none of the listed restaurants are known as problem facilities, and none could fairly be described as having “failed their inspection.”
“The Health Department does not use a pass-or-fail formula when we inspect restaurants; we document the noncritical violations and the critical violations per the Department of Health and Senior Services food code. Even the critical violations can sometimes be corrected on site and if so we do not need to go back to re-inspect,” Brashear said. “For the non-criticals, usually we give them about a month to get them fixed … Sometimes it is a major structure problem and we will work with them as long as they say, ‘We have contacted this contractor and they will be coming on this date to fix it.’”
While there have been major food service problems in Pulaski County including raw sewage under food preparation lines, Brashear said there aren’t any restaurants in the county currently in that category and none of those listed in the Fort Leonard Wood email are close to that level.
“(Our food inspector) mentioned at our board meeting yesterday that of all the names on the list, she really doesn’t see anything that warrants closure. If there were anything that we thought warranted closure, we would call the state,” Brashear said. “Currently there is no restaurant that we are in the process of trying to get a work order for.”
“Work order” is the term used in Missouri for a formal order by state officials that a restaurant cannot reopen to serve food to the public until certain specified work has been completed according to state standards.
Polson said it’s ironic that the health department itself regularly orders pizzas from Domino’s. Health department personnel still “do tons of business” with his restaurant despite the Fort Leonard Wood email, he said.
Fort Leonard Wood spokesmen confirmed that an official statement regarding the email is expected soon but it isn’t yet ready for release.
Polson had his own ideas of what that statement from Fort Leonard Wood should include, considering the damage the email has done not only to his business but also to others.
“I want the community to know 100 percent this is not true what that email said,” Polson said. “Even my competitor, Papa John’s, I don’t want false information spread about them. I want to beat them fair and square, not this way.”