By Vivian Luu
Northwest Asian Weekly
Public Health — Seattle & King County responded to a complaint filed by a patron at Thai Tom restaurant, who saw a cockroach on the counter where food was being served.
Another patron filed a complaint stating that a Thai Tom employee had been smoking in front of the restaurant and later returned to cook without washing his hands.
Thai Tom restaurant is located on University Way northeast and northeast 47th street. Public Health — Seattle & King County closed it down last Thursday, July 23, after finding several health code violations.
Upon further investigation, health inspectors found the restaurant’s refrigerators were unable to keep meats and sprouts properly cooled in order to prevent bacterial growth. “Their refrigerators weren’t coming close to holding 41 degrees,” said Health & Environment Investigator Todd Yerkes.
“The food [the restaurant] was serving could potentially spread foodborne illnesses.”
Cooking sauces were also not being stored under the hot holding procedures, Yerkes said. They were being kept at low temperatures instead of the 135 degrees required to prevent bacterial growth.
Thu Bui, one of the health inspectors that evaluated Thai Tom, said to-go containers were being stored in the bathroom. Unsanitary storage of the containers could literally send the restaurant’s take-out clientele — which makes up about 25 percent of the restaurant’s business — out the door.
Bui also found a can of Raid, an insecticide. It is illegal for restaurants to use insecticides in service areas containing food in the state.
“We require a pest control operator to come in,” said Yerkes, who added that professional exterminators must ensure that food contact surfaces are not exposed to pesticides.
Sarah Carleton, a University District resident, said she was sitting on one of the restaurant’s bar stools, eating pad thai when she saw a cockroach on the restaurant floor.
“Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a big, round thing creeping toward a chair in the corner [of the restaurant],” she said. “It grossed me out. I immediately took my food in a to-go box and ran out of there.”
This is not the first time Thai Tom has been cited for health code violations. Public Health – Seattle & King County health inspection records show the restaurant had been cited for improper cooling procedures since 2007 and improper hand washing facilities since 2008.
Bui said she knew Thai Tom had a history of committing health code violations. She had evaluated the restaurant in the past. Like the most recent violations, she responded to complaints involving cockroaches, rodents, or employees not washing their hands.
“It didn’t surprise me,” she said of the health code violations. “These were issues that had been discussed in the past couple of years.”
Health inspection records show that in August 2007, the restaurant was cited for not having properly sized plumbing, as well as disposing of waste water and sewage improperly.
Violations were cited again in January, February, and October 2008.
Improper installation and maintenance of restaurant facilities were cited in all but two of the 15 health inspections. Bui said she found broken tiles behind and below service sinks.
“Standing water pools up [in the tiles] and it starts to smell really bad,” she said. “Gunk starts building up. Sometimes when you walk into the restaurant, you can smell all that.”
Restaurant employees declined to comment on the violations at the time of this story’s publication.
Thai Tom was given a score of 132 points for the health inspection. Typically, a score of 120 points requires an establishment to be closed down.
At a hearing held Friday morning, the department cleared Thai Tom for reopening.
Restaurant employees gave Yerkes a list of repairs that had been made on Thursday — including records of a repairman who came to fix the refrigerators — along with a plan to prevent further violations. ♦
Vivian Luu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.