Lexington has 100+ restaurants on probation for health violations; hepatitis A raises concern, but no cases have been related to food

Amid a nearly statewide outbreak of hepatitis A, the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department is monitoring more than 100 restaurants that it has placed on probation for violation of public-health standards, Janet Patton reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

“Spoiled food. Soiled equipment. Dirty floors, dirty walls. Live roaches and flies inside kitchens. Dead ducks hanging outside. Lexington’s restaurant inspectors have seen it all,” Patton writes. “Since 2015, they’ve compiled a list of restaurants and other food service providers to target for heightened scrutiny.”

The cleanliness of restaurants has taken on fresh importance since the hepatitis A outbreak started in about a year ago. The Lexington health department recently recommended that everyone in Fayette County be vaccinated against the liver disease because some food service workers had tested positive for the virus. No Kentucky cases of the disease have been attributed to food service.

A restaurant goes on probation if it has an inspection score below 85 or a critical violation that can’t be corrected immediately, including “employee hygiene practices such as a lack of hand washing, cold food being too hot or hot food being too cold, dishwashers not sanitizing properly, or evidence of rodents or insects,” Patton reports. The most common violation is incompletely cleaned dishes and utensils, “either because the dishwasher isn’t dispensing sanitizer or the water isn’t hot enough to kill germs.”

Kitchens at two Lexington hospitals are on probation. The one that serves patients and the cafeteria at UK Good Samaritan Hospital, went on probation when a May inspection “found live flies throughout the kitchen, and dirty walls, ceiling and equipment,” Patton reports. UK spokeswoman Kristi Willett said the kitchen scored 98 in a follow-up inspection May 30. She said the hospital “has passed all other health department inspections in the past five years with a score of 98 or above.”

The cafeteria at St. Joseph Hospital “has been on probation since June, when an inspection found live roaches in the kitchen in the reach-in cooler, as well as unclean floors, walls, soda and juice dispensers,” Patton writes. Kentucky One Health spokeswoman Mary Branham said the inspection was “not reflective of the scores our food service typically receives,” and the follow-up score was 99.

Patton reports that several “high profile” restaurant operators said the label “probation” is misleading. “People don’t understand … that upon reinspection the score was good,” said Rob Ramsey, who operates several restaurants with his family name in Lexington. “As far as I’m aware of we’ve never had a food-safety hazard that has been passed to the public.”