Wendy's Workers Lax on Licenses Inside
On several health inspections since 1998, some employees could not produce food handlers’ cards on request.
Last month’s E. coli outbreak is not the only problem facing the Wendy’s restaurant on Commercial Street SE.
During a surprise health inspection in February, six workers failed to produce their state-law required food handlers’ cards on request, Marion County records show.
Only once in the past two years were all employees able to show their licenses when asked, prompting an inspector to demand in one report, “Increase to 100 percent NOW.”
County records show that Wendy’s has met sanitation and food safety standards on every semi-annual inspection since 1998.
Wendy’s run-ins with licenses are coming to light as health officials continue to search for the cause of the largest E. coli outbreak in Marion County history.
The restaurant, which closed Aug. 25, is scheduled to reopen today after a week of vigorously retraining employees on food handling procedures, replacing all food items and installing new equipment.
Joe Fowler, manager of environmental health services for the Marion County Health Department, said one shouldn’t read too much into the problem with handlers cards. Such oversights aren’t serious enough to close an establishment.
“They could’ve been trained, but they didn’t have their cards with them, or the facility may not have their card on file,” Fowler said.
Also, restaurants don’t get graded down on health inspection reports if their workers aren’t carrying licenses.
But some say food handlers’ cards are often the only means for the public to know that workers are properly trained in cooking, cleaning and handling food.
“It’s a potential indicator of the fact that not only did food handlers lack required training, the organization itself didn’t care enough to see they got it,” said Seattle lawyer Andy Weisbecker.
Weisbecker is a partner in the Marler Clark law firm, which filed suit Friday against the chain on behalf of a Salem man sickened by E. coli.
Wendy’s spokesman Denny Lynch said that all 30 of its restaurant employees have been licensed by the county.
“We’re confident all our procedures are satisfactory for the health department,” he said.
Records revealed that on Nov. 6, 1998, more than 90 percent of the employees had their food handlers’ licenses with them.
But at other times over the past two years, the county health department struggled to get full compliance: •Twelve employees didn’t have their licenses either during a November 22, 1999 inspection.
* Six employees out of 20, didn’t have their food handlers’ cards with them, according to a Feb. 29 inspection report. Three of these employees were new hires and had 30 days to obtain their license.
State rules require inspectors to order food handling employees to leave the restaurant immediately if they can’t produce a license.
Records do not indicate if that procedure was followed or if inspectors returned later to ensure compliance.
“It probably was not done,” Fowler said, adding that fines were never levied.
Wendy’s isn’t the only Salem restaurant to have problems with employees not carrying licenses. Burger King at 5145 Commercial St. SE and Taco Bell at 3455 Commercial St. SE, showed similar problems with compliance.
Burger King and Taco Bell have consistently met sanitation and food safety standards.
Here’s how it works: Restaurants are graded on a 100-point scale. Points are deducted if inspectors note various violations. The passing grade is 70.
Critical violations, such as inadequate cooking temperatures, workers not washing their hands properly, food not being stored at the right temperatures, and ill employees working at the counter, are four- or five-point deductions.
Fowler said inspectors pay particular attention to these items because they’re the ones most likely to spread contamination.
Inspectors come back within 14 days after an inspection to see if these problems have been corrected.
A missing thermometer or dirty refuse area or inadequate light may be one or two point violations.
Records over the last two years showed Wendy’s consistently scored well, even as they were having problems with employees not carrying their food handlers cards.
During the restaurant’s last inspection on Feb. 29, the restaurant scored 82.
The most serious violations — failure to sanitize dishware and food contact surfaces, and failure to keep the restroom accessible — were both corrected on the spot.
The February inspection was an improvement over the Sept. 22, 1999, report. During this inspection, the restaurant scored a 73 — barely passing.
“If it starts going below 80 and into the mid-70s, we’re starting to raise our eyebrows then,” Fowler said.
During this inspection the restaurant was written up for food such as chicken and cole slaw that were stored at improper temperatures.
During the Feb. 24, 1999, inspection and Nov. 6, 1998 inspections, Wendy’s earned 84 points.
Fowler said the county will follow up immediately on food handlers’ licenses at the restaurant.
“We need to focus just a little bit more on these situations where we see a pattern,” he said.
“If there are a number of food handler cards that are missing, we need to be rechecking — maybe sooner than the next routine inspection.”