Jersey restaurants’ 4-strike rule: Hamilton considers stiff fines, closure for failed health inspections

In an attempt to make sure restaurant workers are washing their hands and keeping the kitchen clean, Hamilton officials are preparing to bring the hammer down on restaurant owners who frequently violate health codes.

jon.stewart.handwashing.2002The township council on Tuesday is scheduled to introduce an ordinance that would stiffen penalties for restaurants with a history of failing health inspections, imposing fines as much as three times the current amount and imposing mandatory closures.

Under the current model, restaurants that receive a “conditionally satisfactory” rating, which denotes health issues that need to be addressed, are charged a $250 reinspection fee after each of their second, third and fourth consecutive violations.

After four consecutive violations, the restaurant is shut down until the violations are resolved. Kenji Fusion and China Grill were both shut down for brief periods earlier this year after failing three consecutive inspections.

Township health officer Jeff Plunkett said that some businesses do not take the $250 fee seriously: One owner simply tried to hand a health inspector $250 in cash from his wallet.

“We’ve come to the conclusion that people just pay it,” Plunkett said in February.

The new ordinance would impose steps in the reinspection fees: $250 on the second consecutive offense, $500 on the third and and $750 on the fourth. After four consecutive offenses, the township will shut down the restaurant for a minimum of two days — even if the violations are resolved quickly.

“You keep trying to educate the ownership that they have a responsibility to every customer who walks through their door. It cannot be taken lightly.”