WESTFIELD, NJ – Pure Pita, a "health-conscious fast-casual restaurant" located on Central Avenue downtown, appeared before the board of health on Monday to explain why the business failed multiple walk-in health inspections within the past nine months.
Inaccessible hand-washing sinks, under-cooked chicken, a faulty hot water heater and erratic cooling issues within a commercial refrigerator resulted in the restaurant’s conditionally satisfactory rating in August of 2015, and repeat violations were noted in March by Helen Mendez, Westfield’s principal health inspector.
“At that time they did not have a certified food protection manager, employees did not follow proper procedure for washing hands, there was no paper towels at the handwashing station, potentially hazardous food in the basement was not holding at 41 [degrees] or below, there were some food items that were improperly cooled, food being stored in the walk-in box was directly on the floor, there was no thermometer in the refrigerator,” Mendez read from her most recent report.
During each of Mendez’s visits, the critical violations were corrected on site by the shop's manager. Any and all food items that had been improperly stored or cooled were discarded voluntarily, she said.
Bennett Orfaly, a principal of Pure Pita and the restaurant’s executive chef, cited the challenges of operating in Downtown Westfield, attributing the repeat violations to high employee turnover due to parking and general bad luck.
“We are truly making a strong and conscious effort change the way things are and will be handled in the future,” Orfaly said. “It’s putting people at risk and I want to comply. It’s been a bit of a challenge. I have a lot of money into this business and I’m not in the business to fail. I’m trying to do the right thing. I’ve been trying very hard.”
Board member Neal Snitow reassured Orfaly that every business in Westfield faces problems with parking, yet devises solutions to keep themselves afloat.
“We look to you as the manager or principal to identify these problems and get them solved. In turn, we’re responsible to the community for public health,” Snitow said.
Since the last inspection, Orfaly has had two employees successfully undergo ServSafe certification, which is required by law in the state of New Jersey.
Health officer Megan Avallone recommended that the board hold a two-day closure of Pure Pita if the restaurant received any report of conditionally satisfactory or below within the next year and if such an instance were to occur, Pure Pita would be brought back for an additional hearing. A re-inspection of the establishment is scheduled later this week.
The board also revisited the topic of prohibiting the sale of tobacco and nicotine delivery products to persons under the age of 21, making a motion to push an ultimate ruling to the next meeting on May 2, 2016.
The vote was not unanimous, however, as Dr. Maria LoGrippo hesitated, questioning the push-back from state legislature and Governor Christie’s pocket veto. LoGrippo said she would much rather get involved in reducing opioid and drug use among children, rather than putting a policy into effect.
“As a health advocate, I want to address things – I don’t necessarily know how much a ruling will affect anyone,” LoGrippo said. “I was asking high school kids that live around me about cigarettes and they were like, ‘That’s not the issue, the issues are drugs.'"
According to health officer Megan Avallone, Cranford, Fanwood, Mountainside, New Providence and Summit are all "on board" with issuing the ordinance.