Convenience store owner closes deli following violations

EAST LIVERPOOL — The deli department in a local convenience store has been closed by the owner after the city health department reported finding several violations in the operation.

According to the city’s registered sanitarian Tony Pasquarella, the owner of River City Fill-Up on Lisbon Street voluntarily agreed to close the deli until he could address the violations first discovered in November during an inspection by city health Commissioner Carol Cowan, who was acting in Pasquarella’s absence following an injury. Cowan is a registered sanitarian-in-training.

Cowan had issued an inspection report to license holder Said Ismil listing 15 issues needing to be corrected, among them replacement of ceiling tiles in the food preparation and deli areas where water was leaking from the roof.

Other issues included a walk-in freezer building up ice that Cowan said could result in contamination of foods; a loose rubber gasket in the freezer; no sign over the handwashing sink notifying employees to wash hands; no paper towels at the handwashing sink; no sanitizer test strips; the need to clean oil and residue from the deep fryer, freezer door, walk-in cooler door and stainless steel oven vent; no cove baseboard by three-compartment sinks; floor tiles missing; light bulbs burned out in the cooler and food prep area; and an open package of ham that was not date marked.

In addition, Cowan noted either the owner or manager must have taken a Level II food safety course, which was not the case.

The license holder was advised a follow-up inspection would take place in 30 days, and, once he recovered from his injury, Pasquarella conducted that follow-up on Jan. 23, saying he learned at that time the store actually has been under new ownership since October.

The new owner, Amit Patel, “hadn’t made that many corrections” since the November inspection, according to Pasquarella.

He said plastic containers had been placed in the food preparation area to collect rainwater dripping from the roof, and ceiling tiles were not only damaged, but missing.

The burned out light bulbs were blamed on the leaking roof, Pasquarella said, but said, “You could tell it was from over-use,” explaining the law requires a specific and sufficient amount of lighting over food preparation sites to ensure preparers can spot foreign objects, such as hair or insects, that might contaminate food.

He said there is also unused equipment sitting around for some reason which he said must be cleaned or maintained even if not being used. A rotisserie oven will be removed for that reason.

Cleaning supplies were found on a shelf in close proximity to deli wrap papers in the food prep area, which is also considered a violation, Pasquarella said.

He gave Patel two weeks to address the issues and make the needed repairs and improvements, saying if that doesn’t happen, he will work with him and probably give him more time. He said roof repairs will obviously not be able to be done during the current inclement weather.

“We try to work with all business people, no matter what type of business they own. I told him it would be in the best interest of the public to close the deli, and he said OK. He said he was planning to close the deli permanently in February, anyway, and asked if I could wait until then, but I said no. He said he was willing to close it and have the corrections made,” Pasquarella said.

Currently, the store is classed as a Risk Level III, which is a business where food is cooked and served the same day. If the deli remains closed, and no prepared food is sold, the business will be classified as a Risk Level II, Pasquarella explained, saying at that classification, it could sell pre-packaged food items that customers reheat.

“He’s going to make that decision. It’s less profit he can make (by closing the deli). We’re all for profit, but we’re more for public safety,” Pasquarella said.

Also at issue now, according to both Cowan and Pasquarella, is the fact the business is under new ownership yet still licensed under the former owner.

“We don’t transfer licenses,” Cowan emphasized, saying Patel should have applied for a license when he purchased the business, which technically is not licensed at this time.

Pasquarella said, “He’s claiming he didn’t know he had to (get a new license) and said (Patel) didn’t remember if he had to follow the same steps in Toronto with the store (he bought) there.”

License applications for the year are just now going out to businesses, and Patel will be required to apply as the new owner of the business.

Asked what happens if the owner ultimately fails to work with the health department after being given more time to correct the defects, Pasquarella said he could face informal, then formal, hearings with Cowan and then the board of health, but he said Patel will most likely be given more time to comply “as long as the time factor doesn’t affect the health or safety of the citizens or workers.”