inspections

Health Inspectors Face Daunting Task As Connecticut Reopens

With more of Connecticut back open for business, health inspectors have a big job to do

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When dining out, your safety starts long before your plate arrives at the table. 

Temperature checks on the food, the freezer, and the fridge are important. To kill a virus, so is the temperature of the water cleaning your plate.

Jeff Vecchitto, a sanitarian for the Central Connecticut Health District, tests the temperature of the water in the dishwasher during routine restaurant inspections.

"Those are the things that customers don't see.  We see it in the back of the kitchen,” said Vecchitto.

Health inspectors say the biggest infraction in the industry right now is cooks not wearing masks. 

It seems some cooks can’t stand the heat but Vecchitto said they have to.

“It’s more or less to protect each other in the kitchen.  It’s from one employee to the other,” he explained.

It’s also a problem in the front of the restaurant, too. 

“That’s a big thing for us.  A lot of customers just don’t want to wear it,” said Joe Buccheri, owner of Joey B’s in Berlin.

Buccheri said he hands masks out.

South Glastonbury restaurant owner Mark Conley recently had to turn a customer away from his Cotton Hollow Kitchen when they refused to put one on.

“It’s never easy when you’re dealing with a guest who doesn’t want to take the words that you’re suggesting as the rules of this restaurant,” said Conley.

At Joey B's everyone's faces were covered, even as the kitchen heated up to 86 degrees by 11 a.m.

The Central Connecticut Health District, which covers Berlin, Rocky Hill, Newington, and Wethersfield, said complaints have recently doubled, mostly about employees and customers not wearing masks at various businesses.

"We go out and talk to the facility, try and convince them to enforce the mask rule.  Some will, some won't,” said Supervising Sanitarian Barbara Gigliotti.

Gigliotti took NBC Connecticut through a routine inspection of a Rocky Hill condo complex's swimming pool.

"We're having people keep the chlorine levels just a little bit higher than normal,” said Gigliotti, noting that the coronavirus is killed by chlorination. "We're looking for people being spread out, both on the pool deck and in the pool."

In places where social distancing is nearly impossible, cleanliness is key.

"We have to be really serious about disinfecting,” said Kate Kupstis, an environmental health inspector.

Sarah Won, the owner of Noah Nails in Rocky Hill, installed ventilation in every manicure table and pedicure basin and put up plexiglass.

Employees are required to wear face shields, even behind the plexiglass.

Kupstis called plexiglass a “gray area” when it came to state regulations.

"I wear mask, eye glasses, and other cover,” Won pointed out.

Nail salon standards that were set before the coronavirus crisis are more important than ever before.

“Everything's got to be single service, thrown out,” Kupstis said of the nail files and other implements.

Turning parking lots into patios also brings a new set of rules.

"The challenge may be how to make the rules work with their site,” said Wendy Mis, health director for the town of Glastonbury.

At Cotton Hollow Kitchen, Mis made sure the sawhorses protecting the public from parked cars were the right height.

"So when people are backing up they're gonna be able to see that through their rearview mirror."

With so many different industries reopening, there are different rules to remember, but the same expectations: to keep everyone safe.

“There's a lot to this and it's changed day by day,” said Kupstis.

“It is very hard.  We have to check the rules frequently because they change frequently,” said Mis, noting that restaurants often get certified to reopen before a formal inspection. “It’s very hard to get to places before they’re open.”

It seems like each day comes with new information, more answers, and more questions about how to fight the virus and protect the public

“These rules change on a daily basis and sometimes we’re actually the second ones informed.  The public actually knows before we do,” said Vecchitto.

There are certain measures many of us have learned to look for over the past few months.

“I’m really looking for cleanliness, making sure that people that are serving food are aware, wearing masks,” said Katherine Ramirez of Rocky Hill. “You know, little by little you start feeling a little bit more secure.”

While you can’t go back in the kitchen like health inspectors, they are many protocols they believe you should keep an eye out for the next time you venture out.

Health inspectors talk about new protocols that businesses need to follow during the pandemic.

Restaurants

On top of routine inspections, health inspectors also have to check that businesses are following new Covid-19 protocols.

“There should be no salt and pepper shakers.  Everything should be single service, throw away,” explained Vecchitto, adding the same rule applies to sugar.

Silverware is back but it should be wrapped up.

“The other thing that we’re looking for is somebody handling money only so it reduces the bacteria flow,” he pointed out.

Joey B’s found a high-tech way to handle menus, by not handling them at all.

“I like that we’re not touching menus,” said Ashlee Beisel of Plainville.

Customers scan the QR code at the table with their phone to make the menu appear.

“It works really good. It pops up right away,” Beisel said.

Bathrooms are supposed to be cleaned every hour.

“There’s times when we’re in there two-three times an hour,” said Buccheri of the breakfast and lunchtime rush.

Salons

Noah Nails owner Sarah Won went the extra step of putting ventilation in her manicure and pedicure station.s

There’s a new routine to enter Noah Nails in Rocky Hill.

“You just want that air movement,” explained Kupstis.

Plastic bags and plexiglass provide an extra layer of protection as well.

“It doesn’t make things feel less personal, but it does make you feel safer and cleaner,” said customer Bella Rende of Wethersfield.

Pedicure tubs need time to dry after a cleaning, which should be done after each customer.  Keep an eye on the time while you wait for your name to be called.

“The 10-minute lag time that it needs to air dry sometimes has been missed in the past if the salon is really busy,” said Kupstis.

Swimming Pools

Pool chairs must be sanitized after each use. Health inspectors say many pools are doing away with chairs this summer.

Need to cool off, but worried you’ll catch the coronavirus at your local pool?

“It is not going to be passed in the water.  Nope. The danger is the touching of the objects,” said Gigliotto.

However, Gigliotti suggested bringing your own blanket or chair.

 “They need to be social distancing, particularly in a pool where you’re not going to be wearing a mask,” she added.

New Outdoor Dining

Mark Conely, owner of Cotton Hollow Kitchen in South Glastonbury, goes through the inspection process for his parking lot, turned outdoor patio.

Glastonbury Health Director Wendy Mis said restaurants are getting the go-ahead to reopen before a formal inspection. She said those who do receive an emblem from the state that should be placed where customers can see.

“That means that the owner has self-certified that they meet certain criteria,” she explained.

Cotton Hollow Kitchen opened right before the coronavirus hit.  So, Conley is going above and to gain the confidence of customers, by asking guests to get their temperature checked, limiting dining to 90 minutes, and turning away people who refuse to wear masks.

“I want to do my very best to win their confidence and let them know that I really care about safety first, theirs and my staff’s,” he explained.

Other steps Conely’s taking include providing two different colors of gloves for employees, one for disinfecting tables and the other for waiting on those tables.  He’s put the gloves along with hand sanitizer out on a cart in the outdoor dining area so that customers can be assured that the person waiting on them has changed their gloves.

Thought the state is allowing indoor dining at 50%, Conley said he’s more comfortable capping his numbers a bit lower.  However, he’s left an inspirational quote on the tables he won’t use.

 “I want people to believe with us that there is light after darkness, and that we’re walking through it, and we’re going to get to the other side.  We just need to get there together and do it safely,” he explained.

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