Health & Wellness

Westfield Board of Health Hears of Dirty Restaurants, Legionnaires' & Sales of E-Cigs to Minors

Helen Mendez speaks about restaurant inspections of local restaurants at Monday night's board of health meeting. Credits: Jill D'Ambrosio

WESTFIELD, NJ – Members of the town’s board of health met Monday night to discuss a string of recent sanitation complaints at local restaurants, to touch on several public health issues and to look ahead to fall flu clinics.

Board Vice President Tom O’Neill presided over the meeting in Dr. Lawrence Budnick’s absence.

Helen Mendez, principal registered environmental health specialist, updated the board on the condition of several eateries that had received complaints during the summer, beginning with Pure Pita, which opened on Central Avenue on July 16.

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Upon visiting the restaurant July 31, Mendez found soiled equipment, a lack of hot water, inaccessible handwashing stations and chicken that was not cooked to proper temperature. She closed Pure Pita briefly but gave it a conditional satisfactory rating once hot water was restored so it could reopen that day.

Mendez returned to Pure Pita on Aug. 11 for a re-inspection and still found problems.

“Once again, they were not cooking chicken to the proper final temperature,” she said, adding that there were also “roaches in the basement.”

Pure Pita passed inspection on Sept. 3. Mendez noted that if it receives another unsatisfactory rating, they will have to appear before the board for a hearing.

“They have a different person in charge who seems really on the ball,” she said.

Mendez also pointed out that a temperature concern at Yapple Yogurt and improper holding temperatures at Hunan Wok were also discovered and corrected.

In addition, Mendez heard a complaint from a patron of the Mexican restaurant Tinga.

“We received a complaint from a customer who says he saw a roach crawling across a counter,” she said. “I did not find any evidence of roaches there.”

However, Mendez did find that some employees were “not properly manually sanitizing” and that some food had to be tossed away.

Mendez also updated members on New York 8th Avenue Deli (NY Korean BBQ), which came before the board for a hearing at the Aug. 3 meeting after receiving three conditional or unsatisfactory ratings within one year. The board could enact a two-day suspension of its food license if it the deli receives another conditional or unsatisfactory rating, Mendez explained.

In August, the board of health passed an ordinance requiring restaurants and shops selling food to display a color-coded placard showing their rating — satisfactory, conditionally satisfactory or unsatisfactory.

Members also reviewed Westfield's newly reinstated tobacco age of sale program, which targets vendors of e-cigarettes, who must now have a license to sell the product. Two Westfield establishments — Harmon and Stop & Shop — were caught selling tobacco products, which includes e-cigarettes, to minors in August.

In Westfield, a 7-year-old girl with a compromised immune system was found to have Legionella, Megan Avallone, health director for the Westfield Regional Health Department, told the board. Legionella is the bacteria responsible for most cases of Legionnaires' disease.

Officials did a thorough search for the cause of the girl’s sickness but “unfortunately, we’re not able to locate the source,” Avallone said.

In many of her coverage towns she has seen an increase in tick-borne illnesses, Avallone reported.

Flu clinics are tentatively scheduled for the end of September in all eight towns of the regional health department, but Avallone declined to announce dates Monday because this year the vaccine is “for some reason, trickling in,” she said.

“When it’s official, I’ll send it out,” she said.

Toward the end of the meeting, Avallone shared with the board that she is considering purchasing a Cloud-based app from a firm that approached her with the idea to develop. Mendez could use the app from an iPad or smart phone while in the field conducting inspections. The app would in turn store statistics and cut down on administrative tasks.

“We are just using it for inspections or complaints,” Avallone said.

Board member Maria LoGrippo suggested that Avallone shop around and compare prices.

“It might be helpful … to get a couple of proposals,” she said.

Avallone agreed.

“Regardless of if we use this vendor, I do like the idea of using a Cloud-based system,” Avallone said.

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