Natrona County health inspectors began finding serious food safety violations at Dragon Wall restaurant during a routine inspection in February 2013.
Containers of raw chicken were stored above cooked chicken. The blades of a can opener and knives were dirty, and small quantities of mouse droppings were found in a room near the back door, according to the restaurant inspection report.
A second inspection followed in August, and the results were similar. While the droppings had been cleaned up, inspectors found raw food stored close to or above cooked food and vegetables.
A number of flies were in the building, and an employee did not know the proper hand-washing procedure, the inspector found.
"Due to repeated violations and the complete disregard for the Wyoming Food Safety Rules which you are expected to comply with as a condition of your license, non-renewal of your license is being considered," the report states.
The restaurant's license is up for renewal Wednesday. If it is not renewed, Dragon Wall can no longer legally serve food to the public.
When the department followed up in September for a rare third inspection within a year, no violations were found.
Starting today, the details of those inspections as well as those of all 732 food service health inspections last year in Natrona County will be available at trib.com/data.
A Star-Tribune analysis of the records, which were provided by the Casper-Natrona County Health Department and organized by Star-Tribune staff, found the following:
In roughly half of the inspections in 2013, the health department found no food safety violations of any kind.
Inspectors reported 1,082 violations last year, 582 of which were critical, or more serious, violations.
Seven establishments that serve food had 10 or more total food safety violations on the days of their inspections last year. One of those was the Natrona County Detention Center.
Considered as a whole, the records suggest that while the majority of eateries in the Casper area offer a clean, safe environment as determined by national standards, a few restaurants in the county did not meet food safety requirements on a consistent basis, at least in 2013.
The health department typically inspects each restaurant in the Casper area twice annually, following guidelines set by the federal Food and Drug Administration.
In addition to restaurants, the department inspects the county’s coffee shops, schools, bars, jail and anywhere else that serves food. Violations are sorted into two categories, critical and noncritical.
Critical violations are more likely to contribute to food contamination, illness or environmental degradation.
The most common critical violations in Natrona County restaurants relate to improper temperatures in food storage. Other critical violations range from rodent droppings and flies in the kitchen to a lack of hand-washing by staff.
Critical violations are expected to be corrected immediately during an inspection. In certain instances — for example, when a new appliance needs to be installed — a follow-up inspection is scheduled within 10 days.
Sixteen critical violations were reported during the two inspections at Dragon Wall last year, the most at any establishment in the county.
Noncritical violations are not as likely to contribute to sickness stemming from food consumption at that restaurant. Noncritical violations affect the overall cleanliness of a facility.
Common noncritical violations in Casper are dirty restrooms and walls and a lack of soap and paper towels near a hand sink.
At the Subway in the east-side Wal-Mart, an infant was found covered by a blanket near a washing station. A health inspector discovered the child during a routine inspection in January.
Because infants are “not necessary to operation and therefore not permitted in kitchen areas” and because the child’s diaper increased the risk of foodborne illness in the restaurant, a noncritical violation was noted on the restaurant’s health inspection and logged into the health department’s public records.
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Consequences of a dirty restaurant
John Drinnon, division director for environmental health for the health department, oversees health inspections for the county. Drinnon said he views inspections as a tool for promoting strong public health.
Still, not all restaurants around Casper are quick to fix their problems, he said.
“The vast majority of operators employ sound methods to ensure product safety,” he said. “However, like law enforcement, there will be DUIs and speeding drivers out there.”
The health department follows guidelines set by the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act, which outlines requirements for facilities that serve food to the public.
In Wyoming, those businesses must obtain a food service license. Locally, the city of Casper also requires a business license, and as a stipulation of that license, vendors must allow routine inspections by the health department and investigations into complaints filed by the public.
If a restaurant repeatedly violates health standards, its license may come up for an administrative hearing for either revocation or nonrenewal. The latter is what might happen to Dragon Wall.
The county and the restaurant could remedy the issue if the restaurant appeals. The remediation would work its way out through a legal process in the coming months, according to Bill Knight, the county attorney.
Knight said he had not followed the issue closely.
“We mostly defer to the health department,” he said.
Steve Vien, an interpreter for the owner of the restaurant, said that it is premature to say the restaurant will lose its license and that Dragon Wall is moving to a better building.
“This is a really old building with a small kitchen,” Vien said.
Vien attributed some of the past problems at the restaurant to the building it occupies. Because restaurant owners lease the building, they could not make some of the fixes and additions they otherwise would have, he said.
He also said that the restaurant had addressed all past violations and that he was in discussions with the health department.
Drinnon said the license will come up for renewal Wednesday.
Mostly clean county
Although some restaurants racked up double-digit health code violations, a little more than half of last year's inspections — 378 of the 732 total — did not result in any violations.
J's Pub and Grill was among the restaurants that received a clean inspection in 2013.
Sashia Patterson, a server and manager at J's, said that restaurant managers emphasize cleanliness to all employees and that all surfaces are frequently sanitized.
Patterson said she thought the reports for her restaurant reflected the conditions year-round, not just on the day of the check-ins.
"We never know when (the inspectors) are coming in. That's how we keep it every day," she said.
Drinnon pointed to school cafeterias throughout the county as examples of exceptionally run, clean food establishments.
The complete list and details of inspections are available at trib.com/data. The database will be updated as 2014 records become available.