Gov’t officials make some distressing, and disgusting, discoveries in restaurants
By John McPhaul and Elsa Velázquez Santiago
Special to The Star
From now on you might want to take extra care when reviewing the options for dining out. Not only because of COVID-19.
The Puerto Rico Police Department and other agencies carried out several operations Sunday afternoon and evening as part of inspections to enforce the executive order that establishes health and social distancing measures to reduce and prevent coronavirus infections, but in the process they found something else.
As reported on Telenoticias (Telemundo), during the operation authorities visited the Latin Star restaurant on Ashford Avenue in Condado, which was closed after an inspection by the Police, firefighters and public health agencies.
The photos posted in social media by TV news reporter Jeremy Ortiz show buckets of cooked and raw food on the floor, all piled up, and even a mouse in what appears to be a refrigerator.
Jesús Hernández, director of the island Health Department’s Investigations Unit, pointed out Monday in an interview with RadioIsla 1320 AM that they found at the Latin Star restaurant that rice was being served from a bucket.
“From that bucket they served the diners,” Hernández said.
Health Secretary Lorenzo González Feliciano said in a written statement that restaurants were ordered closed due to non-compliance with the executive order and environmental health protocols.
“We have been firm that the executive order must be complied with. Our staff will work with the Puerto Rico Police to ensure that both merchants and individuals comply with the measures imposed to minimize the spread of COVID-19,” González Feliciano said. “In the case of establishments, we will not hesitate to close those that flout the rules, knowing that they not only violate [the safety measures], but also put lives at risk.”
When the Health Department became aware that the Latin Star Restaurant establishment was operating in violation of the executive order, it mobilized personnel to investigate. However, in addition to non-compliance with the executive order, the intervention showed that the restaurant does not follow environmental health protocols, which puts the health and safety of diners and employees at risk.
“As part of the violations that we found, the mishandling of food, expired and improperly packaged food and a lack of cleanliness in the kitchen area, among others, stand out,” Hernández said. “What we saw is truly unacceptable, so we proceeded to close the establishment. We remain vigilant with this and other cases in which we have intervened to ensure that they do not violate the law again and put people’s health at risk.”
Also as part of the interventions, Dumplings, another Condado area eating establishment, was ordered closed apparently due to environmental health violations, because the kitchen was not in proper condition, food was stored improperly and toilets lacked adequate connections. In addition, there were lines outside the establishment, a violation of the executive order, and the required social distancing was not duly enforced.
On their Facebook page, the Dumpling administration denied the order to close the establishment was because of health violations.
“Today rumors have circulated that the Health Department closed our restaurant due to unhealthy conditions, something that is totally false; we had expired permits and we are already working on it,” reads the post on Facebook. “Our restaurant has an open kitchen for everyone to see, our cleaning is rigorous and we comply with everything related to health.”
They also shared photos.
Personnel from the Health Department also visited three other establishments, where they did not find violations but did provide guidance on the provisions of the law to prevent future violations.
They also intervened at a residence, after becoming aware that a private party was being held there with an excessive number of people gathered without taking social distancing measures.
Executive Order 2020-062 establishes that on Sundays, all citizens must remain in their residences or accommodations 24 hours a day, unless they are addressing a health situation or must travel to any of the establishments allowed by law or to provide assistance to senior citizens, people with disabilities or especially vulnerable people who require medical or professional care. Likewise, the order provides that all citizens must limit their social activities or family entertainment, both in public and private places.
“Measures of physical distancing and the use of masks are mandatory for all people, in order to prevent the spread of the virus,” the Health secretary said. “It is not just about the rules imposed by the government, but also about the social responsibility of enforcing them. We all have to do our part to control infections.”