The Dairy Queen on Mariposa Road reopened on a conditional basis this week after being shut down for what county sanitarians called “gross unsanitary conditions” inside the establishment.
The soft-serve ice cream shop is the first restaurant in Santa Cruz County to close for health code violations in the five years that sanitarian Jose Arriola has worked at the Environmental Health Department, which oversees restaurant inspections, Arriola said.
He said the health department shut down the restaurant after finding contaminated food contact surfaces, cockroaches coming in contact with food in the kitchen, and expired milk used for shakes.
A health inspection report provided by the department read: “The establishment is in severe need of a thorough cleaning. General unsanitary conditions are evident throughout the establishment. Live cockroaches and rodent droppings pose a health hazard and danger to public health.”
Health inspectors first visited the Dairy Queen on Oct. 27 and identified 10 risk factor violations and eight good retail practice violations, including dirty soda nozzles and preparation stations, as well as flycatchers covered in dead flies hovering over food preparation areas.
Photographs provided by Arriola show insects in the milk protein used to make the ice cream, a greasy waffle iron, dirty floorboards and trash in drawers and on the floor.
The restaurant was given seven days to clean the air condition filters and 30 days to repair holes and other areas in poor conditions. Other infractions, like keeping the refrigerator at the proper temperature, were required to be corrected immediately.
During a follow-up visit the next day, inspectors again found cockroaches and the restaurant was shut down, Arriola said.
“We had to shut them down in order for them to correct the deficiencies,” he said over the phone last Friday.
The health department has since allowed the fast food restaurant to reopen on a conditional basis.
Owner Lee Smyer of Rio Rico said the cockroaches come out of the sewer system and the city has advised him to pour an enzyme solution down the drain to prevent them from surfacing. Employees also have to cut off the roaches’ food and water sources by mopping up stagnant water and cleaning the floors.
Smyer added that pest control services come to the restaurant twice a week.
“The conditions are excellent now, we just have to stay on it,” he said, adding later: “The employees know what to do, we just have to keep the store as clean as we can.”
Arriola said his department would continue to monitor the Dairy Queen on a weekly basis, if necessary, until the infractions have been corrected, at which time it will be issued a regular use permit again.
However, the restaurant has a history of health code violations.
In April, inspectors identified three risk factor violations, including inadequate employee hand wash facilities and contaminated food contact surfaces, as well as two good retail practice violations.
Inspectors found that the refrigerator was about seven degrees warmer than it should be during an inspection carried out last July and dirty towels were found soaking in the food preparation sink during an inspection in September 2013.
Some violations are weighed more heavily than others, Arriola said, adding that if it’s not an imminent health hazard, the health department will work with the restaurant to make corrections.
“We’re not in the business of closing down businesses,” he said. “Our main job is to protect public health and if we feel that public health is in danger, we take steps to temporarily close a place.”
“A lot of times it’s about educating the operators. Opening a restaurant is quite difficult, there are a lot of moving parts.”