Dirty Dining: Pizza chain gets 84 violations in one week span

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HAMILTON COUNTY, Ind. – A local pizza chain is being closely watched by the Hamilton County Health Department after racking up dozens of violations this summer alone.  The Dirty Dining team is looking through inspection records for South of Chicago Pizza to reveal issues in the kitchens.

Problems at the South of Chicago Fishers and Noblesville locations got serious this summer and the health department called the owners in for an administrative hearing. The two spots got a combined 84 critical and non-critical violations in a one week span.

Health department officials tell FOX 59 South of Chicago Pizza went from getting repeated violations to receiving an abatement order and finally reaching the administrative hearing level.

“The inspector takes it to the point where they feel like they’re not making enough progress forward then they turn it over to myself and the administrator,” said Jason Lemaster,  Director of Environmental Health for the Hamilton County Health Department. “Usually, an abatement order takes care of the problem .”

That was not the case with South of Chicago Pizza. After a series of violations in the spring, the Fishers restaurant was given an abatement order in May. The abatement order is a harsher penalty for a restaurant that a violation. An inspection on July 22 found 18 critical and 17 non-critical violations.

Inspection records show the floors and walls in the kitchen were soiled. House flies and fruit flies were observed throughout the facility and a trash bag was being used to store dough in. The manager on duty was not present and employees said that manager did not show up for work.

“We need a facility to educate and train employees and make sure they are doing things right,” Lemaster said.

The situation worsened when an inspection at the Noblesville location on July 25 uncovered 19 critical and 30 non-critical violations.  Problems included the cheese at the salad bar being kept at improper temperatures. The floors in the kitchen, bar and basement were soiled. The inspector found there was no sanitizer set up in the kitchen prep areas. And, two pans of “heavily molded” red peppers were found in the walk-in cooler.

Lemaster said the health department typically has around six hearings a year. The South of Chicago owner has been called in for two so far in 2016. The latest hearing happened on August 11, 2016.  Hamilton County health officials wanted to discuss persistent problems at both restaurant locations.

“We would rather have a facility or business, even South of Chicago Pizza,  have a good business and good operation and be profitable,” Lemaster said. “We just also want it to be safe for citizens who patronize the facility.”

While the South of Chicago Pizza owner would not do an on-camera interview, he did talk to FOX 59 on the phone. He said nearly all the violations have now been addressed and that a new manager is overseeing operations at the Noblesville location.

The restaurant owner provided responses to the health department listing a plan of action to correct the violations. The Fishers location paperwork mentions they are “hiring older staff that care about proper food safety.”  The Noblesville restaurant’s response states areas are being “scrubbed and deep cleaned.”

The true test is still to come during the next round of inspections, with more severe steps from the health department if problems persist.

“Then we can move into other mechanisms like civil penalties that are basically fines,” Lemaster said. “And then also maybe potential suspension of license of facility and make a temporary closure of facility to get it cleaned up.”

The owner said the health department is going to conduct a two-hour food safety training session with his employees later this month.

To read the violations and owner responses, click here.