The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School Culinary Arts Program, a vocational program to prepare students for careers in the food service industry, has operated without the food permit required by the town of Oak Bluffs since September, 2012.
Two different inspectors have documented a long record of food code violations in the program’s kitchen, dating back at least four school years. Many of the same violations, including unclean equipment, food debris, and failure to wear gloves and hair restraints, are cited in inspection after inspection, according to reports filed with the Oak Bluffs board of health.
Asked in a phone interview Monday whether he had a permit, Culinary Arts instructor Jack O’Malley said he did, but he failed to produce it for verification. Later, Mr. O’Malley conceded that the program has been serving food without a valid permit.
“I can’t fulfill your request for a current permit at this time,” Mr. O’Malley wrote in an e-mail. “This year’s permit has not been issued and we are currently working with the Oak Bluffs board of health to complete the process. I anticipate this will be completed fairly quickly and will forward a copy to you at that time.”
The issues with the Culinary Arts program came to light after the town began posting inspection reports on its website, to encourage better compliance by local restaurants.
Oak Bluffs health agent Shirley Fauteux, following a series of inspections, decided the overall operation of the kitchen, and the repeated violations, do not meet the town’s standards for issuing a food permit for establishments serving the public.
She said she withheld the permit, as an incentive for Mr. O’Malley to fix the problems rather than shut down the vocational program, but the problems were never fully addressed.
“I’m trying to get him to come up to compliance so I can get him a permit,” Ms. Fauteux said. “I was trying to work with him. I do have some discretion. I’m trying to get him to comply.”
Ms. Fauteux said she expects to take some criticism for allowing the program to continue serving food without a permit.
Prompted, according to Ms. Fauteux, by questions from The Times, Mr. O’Malley voluntarily attended the Oak Bluffs board of health meeting Tuesday evening and reached an agreement with board members to correct the violations.”The goal is to get him a permit,” Ms. Fauteux said Wednesday. “We’re going to work with him to get that. I’m going to do an unannounced inspection next week. I suspect he will be in compliance. I suggested he meet with his kids prior to every class to explain the need for gloves and hair restraints for ready-to-eat foods.”
About 50 high school students participate in the Culinary Arts vocational program. “We’re a function-based program,” Mr. O’Malley said. “We cater to different groups, whether they come in and eat in our dining room, a couple of times a month we’ll do that. We feed teachers short order style. We do a few off-premises functions throughout the year.”
Ms. Fauteux acknowledged that compliance may be difficult with students coming in and out of the kitchen on different schedules, but she said the responsibility rests with Mr. O’Malley.
Ms. Fauteux said while failure to wear gloves or hair restraints while handling ready-to-eat foods such as bread or salad greens may seem like a minor violation, it is required by the state and federal regulations, and is actually one of the most common ways food borne illnesses are spread.
She said old food on the floor is not likely to spread illness, but is still a serious violation.
“If it was today’s food, you really don’t look at that,” Ms. Fauteux said. “But if you go and see old stuff on the floor, it’s indicative that their cleaning habits are not what they should be. A lot of the food code is based on cleanliness.”
The Culinary Arts program has a history of sub-standard inspections. On February 4 of this year, the program was cited for two violations after an inspection by Ms. Fauteux, including old food on the floor under equipment, and a dirty oven top. In a re-inspection February 21, the program was cited for more violations, including old food debris on the floor, and two students not wearing gloves or hair restraints while handling ready-to-eat food.
“Equipment still needs cleaning, inside, outside, under,” Ms. Fauteux noted on her inspection report.
On April 2, 2012, during an unannounced inspection, health inspector Ron Tolin noted several violations, including a dirty can opener, trays not washed, dirty floors, cobwebs, droppings in a dry storage area, and old food under an oven, according to the inspection report.
On May 16, 2012, two weeks later, a reinspection by Ms. Fauteux noted six violations, including debris on the floor of a walk-in freezer, condiment containers that needed cleaning, and cabinets that were dirty, wet, and rusty.
In a handwritten note on the inspection report, Ms. Fauteux wrote, “Overall, the entire kitchen is dirty, needs cleaning and sanitizing.”
She returned to the Culinary Arts kitchen one week later, and noted on the inspection report that many of the violations had been corrected. “Much cleaner, but some areas need cleaning,” she wrote on the report.
In 2011, a February 28 inspection noted five violations. In 2010, an inspection on September 29 noted no violations. One month later, an inspection report noted nine violations.
Online, on compliance
In February, the town of Oak Bluffs began posting inspection reports on its website. Ms. Fauteux said while most food establishments take the food code very seriously, a few are cited year after year for repeated violations.
Oak Bluffs is the only town on the Island posting the public records online, but other towns are considering similar action. Most large cities in the United States, and many smaller municipalities, require some form of current inspection report or grade displayed in plain view to restaurant customers.
Among the first inspections posted were the Culinary Arts program and Mocha Mott’s coffee shop. All reports are posted as they are completed, not to indicate problems with any particular establishment.
Mocha Mott’s owner Tim Dobel said he had no problem with making inspection reports more accessible.
“It’s their choice,” Mr. Dobel said. “We feel like we don’t have anything to hide, as long as they’re fair and reasonable. It’s still subjective. We work real hard at keeping our stuff fresh and staying clean and tidy. If they do have any issues, we address them immediately.”