PANAMA CITY — Rodent droppings and live roaches led health inspectors to issue temporary closures for two Bay County restaurants in the past month, according to official reports.
In July, the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations (DBPR) issued emergency closures to Sandbar Seafood House & Deli, 275 S. State 79 in Panama City Beach, and Red Elephant Pizza & Grill, 2499 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Panama City. Sanitation and safety specialists reported finding conditions that could contribute directly to a food-borne illness or injury at the time of their respective inspections. Both businesses corrected the issues and were allowed to reopen during follow-up inspections, DBPR reports indicate.
DBPR specifies their inspection reports are snapshots of a business at that time only.
Both businesses were allowed to reopen the day of or the day after their respective closures and have active licenses.
The first closure came after inspectors arrived July 17 at Red Elephant to conduct a routine inspection. Inside, officials discovered evidence of roach activity, according to DBPR reports.
“Observed approximately 23 total live roaches on the cook line reach-in cooler condenser fan area, 15 live roaches on sticky trap and eight live roaches around condenser area,” inspectors wrote.
Red Elephant General Manager Josh Kruczek said the summer is challenging because restaurants face a war on two fronts with insects coming in doors in search of water along with the steady battle of insect stowaways inside cardboard boxes. He said Red Elephant had ramped up its pest control to more than three visits a month when inspectors arrived mid-July during an extermination.
“They were on site when the inspector showed up and allowed pest control to do their thing,” Kruczek said. “We worked through lunch with the inspector there. Once pest control finished, they did another walk through and it was back to business as usual.”
Red Elephant corrected the issue shortly afterward, and the business was allowed to reopen about 4:30 p.m. the same day. Kruczek said that the emergency closure was more of a formality rather than an actual closure. He noted that Red Elephant of Panama City has been in business for about 10 years and not had a similar issue during that time.
“We were doing everything we were supposed to be doing and they were doing what they were supposed to be doing,” Kruczek added. “We don’t have issues. That’s why we have an open kitchen and invite people into our kitchen.”
DBPR reports indicate the closure was the first of its kind for the eatery.
In the month’s second closure, inspectors arrived about 5 p.m. July 30 to the Sandbar to conduct an inspection after receiving a complaint. Inside, officials reported discovering live roaches near a three-compartment sink and evidence of rodent activity in a storage area and inside the restaurant.
“Observed two hard rodent dropping on the back storage area,” inspectors wrote. “Observed 50 hard dropping underneath table against the wall on the frontline.”
Co-owner David Humphreys said that the table had been a stationary relic in the building since it had been repurposed as a restaurant. The rodent droppings, he said, were from a previous issue in 2014.
“We had a problem way back and spent a pile of money getting the building sealed up,” Humphreys said. “We don’t have a problem with that anymore.”
Humphreys was referring to an incident in 2014 when the business was closed twice within three months because inspectors found numerous rodent droppings in the restaurant. At the time, the business was completing construction and an air conditioner replacement that left it vulnerable to pests.
The business corrected the issue then and did not have issues again until July 30. Humphreys attributed the discovery of live roaches to the business being in the process of changing pest control companies. He said the restaurant now has an exterminator there every week.
Sandbar corrected the issues and was allowed to reopen the next morning about 10:30 a.m. But Humphreys said he and the co-owner decided to close again for two days on its own for a thorough cleansing and renovations to ensure the issue didn’t repeat itself, including removing the table and making all areas of the business accessible for pest control.
“Although we had some concerns, we believe we have cleaned everything up and solved any problems,” Humphrey added.
Added to the temporary restaurant closures issued by DBPR from earlier in 2018 in the central Panhandle, July’s two closures bring the total to 20 this year.