A moldy bell pepper.
Bare hands touching ready-to-eat food.
Food that expired over a week ago sitting in the fridge.
These are just a few of the health violations cited by a Champaign-Urbana Public Health District inspector at Ambar India in November last year. The restaurant has failed five inspections in the past two months and is still closed as of Jan. 10.
Last year, as of late November, 10 restaurants in Champaign County, including Ambar India, were closed and received a red placard because of failed health inspections. But about 75 failed an inspection but remained open, receiving a yellow placard — some multiple times. These failures were the result of both routine and follow-up inspections.
To view the full list of restaurants that failed, click here.
The data was obtained via two Freedom of Information Act requests this year. This current data does not include any inspections not in the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District online database after Nov. 27, 2023.
All restaurants are given health ratings through placards that are green, yellow or red. Within the county, only Champaign and Urbana restaurants are required to post a physical placard at the location because county health officials said they did not want to hurt restaurant businesses in smaller communities.
Green indicates satisfactory compliance, but can still have some health violations. Yellow indicates that there is a food safety alert due to noncompliance with food safety standards, and the establishment is given time to correct this. Red indicates the restaurant is out of compliance and its health permit is suspended, shutting down the restaurant until a satisfactory inspection is completed.
The inspections look for issues known as priority and priority foundation violations, which could contribute to injury or foodborne illness risks. Receiving a red rating often occurs because of a failure to correct these violations or if there is an immediate health or safety hazard in the establishment.
To receive a yellow rating, a restaurant must have six or more different categories of priority or priority foundation violations, or the violations must be repeated for two consecutive inspections.
Ambar India has recent series of failures
On Nov. 7, Ambar India received a yellow placard, which meant it failed its routine inspection. A county health inspector cited 12 serious violations, five of which were repeated violations from the previous routine inspection conducted on March 15.
On Nov. 15, a follow-up visit to Ambar India, which had been allowed to remain open, was conducted to make sure the previous violations had been corrected. One priority foundation violation, a serious violation relating to foodborne illness or injury, was still not corrected, according to inspection records.
Ambar India had not implemented the correct food cooling methods since the last visit, the inspector said in the report. The inspector noted that potatoes at 68 degrees Fahrenheit were prepared the previous night and left sitting out overnight. A mandatory compliance meeting was scheduled for the next morning.
Another follow-up visit was conducted on Nov. 28. The inspector found Ambar India was still not using proper cooling methods. A red placard was issued — closing down the restaurant.
It can take several inspections before a restaurant is closed for health violations. For Ambar India, it took 3 weeks.
But that wasn’t the end of the restaurant’s struggle to pass an inspection. On Dec. 6 it received a yellow placard from a follow-up inspection, allowing it to reopen. One week later on Dec. 13, Ambar India was closed yet again after receiving a red placard in a follow-up inspection.
Ambar India has not been reinspected as of Jan. 10 this year and did not answer its phone.
Sarah Michaels, programs coordinator for environmental health at the health district, said the district is waiting on “revised menu and procedures for review,” and there will be another inspection scheduled if the district approves the submitted documents.
Ranjeet Singh and Daljit Singh have both been listed on the inspection reports as the person in charge. Michaels confirmed these two are the owners of Ambar India.
Restaurants outside Urbana and Champaign don’t display placards, but still have violations
In Champaign County, there are 1,252 food establishments, of which 915 are in Champaign and Urbana. There are currently six health inspectors who conduct restaurant inspections for the county, with one open position as of last November.
Establishments outside of the city limits of Urbana-Champaign are not required to display their placards because the county health board worried that placards would hurt those businesses. Health officials said at the time of the decision to exclude the placard requirement that they did not want to hurt restaurant businesses in smaller communities.
For example, the restaurant Puerta Del Sol in Rantoul was not required to display a yellow placard for customers after its inspection on April 10 this year despite numerous violations.
It failed its inspection with 15 health violations. A few of the descriptions for violations include gnats around dirty dishes, food that expired over seven days ago in the fridge, food debris covering the floor and unlabeled bleach near open spices.
After two more follow-up inspections, it received a green placard. A routine inspection of Puerta Del Sol was again conducted Nov. 15 and the result was another yellow placard. This time, there were 11 violations with six being repeats from the last inspection. It was never closed during this time and there were no warnings or alerts to the public.
Baymont Inns & Suites received multiple yellow and red placards upon follow-up inspections.
On July 7, its routine inspection resulted in a red placard because it did not have dish sanitizer. The inspector noted that an employee said they did not have this sanitizer for four months before the inspection.
Later the same day, the establishment purchased sanitizer, and its placard was changed from red to yellow. Some violation descriptions noted that waffle batter was kept and reused for multiple days and an insect trap was directly above the self-service breakfast area.
Only one month later, their rating changed back to red. It repeated three priority and priority foundation violations. The report noted there was no sanitizer again, management still didn’t know employee illness policies and there were still no written procedures for cleaning vomit and diarrhea.
Violations can put customers at serious risk, health officials say.
Since 2020, the Illinois Department of Health identified outbreaks of salmonella linked to live poultry and Cyclospora cases. These diseases are treatable but rarely can be life-threatening if not treated. Symptoms of salmonella include bloody diarrhea, fever, headache and fatigue.
Star BBQ in Savoy has had five yellow placards since 2021. On Dec. 9, 2022, it was given a yellow placard with nine violations. One of the violations was for “poisonous or toxic material stored.” The inspector noted that chemical spray bottles were next to and aiming at cups at the customer beverage station.
This was not corrected until nearly two weeks later, after two follow-up inspections.
Inspection report portal can’t filter by placard, but feature may be considered
The data for inspections is stored by Digital Health Department (DHD), an online third-party inspection program owned by Tyler Technologies. The health district is limited to reports the department set up because they do not keep or print paper copies of inspections, Tammy Hamilton, environmental health department administrative assistant, said.
Environmental Health’s Michaels said the health district website food inspection portal was recently updated. The “Most Current Inspections” section was expanded to show more inspections. However, there have been issues with displaying inspections since the program was updated.
For some facilities, the database does not display the entire number of facilities per facility name. Hamilton said it is showing a partial list for restaurants with multiple locations such as McDonald’s. The company is aware of this issue.
Michaels said the public database is updated with the health district’s software program. Currently, there is no way to search for how many restaurants have received yellow and red placards in the database over any given time. With the software update, adding parameters for this search may be considered, Michaels said.
Once an establishment closes for good, the file in the health district database is made inactive. There is no way to search for closed restaurants in the database, Michaels said.
In 2017, Illinois adopted the FDA Food Code as a preventative measure across the state to combat foodborne illness. Previously, a score would be given based on the number of violations to a restaurant. However, this did not account for more serious violations.
Priority and priority foundation violations are now what inspectors are looking for. A priority violation means that it is contributing directly to the hazards associated with injury or foodborne illness risk, according to the Illinois Department of Health website. A priority foundation item supports or enables at least one priority category.