When the health inspector showed up at Wolfgang’s Steakhouse in Beverly Hills last fall, he found a cockroach in the hall and poor sanitation in the kitchen. He found enough critical violations, he threatened to suspend their permit and said he’d be back in two weeks to make sure they had cleaned up.
The county’s 10 million residents depend on the health department to inspect restaurants often, to make sure they’re clean and safe. But an NBC4 I-Team investigation has found LA County is failing to inspect many restaurants frequently, and food poisoning and filth at some eateries may be the result.
“We could be doing a better job in many areas,” says Angelo Bellomo, the head of the county’s restaurant inspection program, and director of LA County Environmental Health.
Restaurants like Nobu in Malibu, which serves sushi to celebrities like Halle Berry and Mel Gibson, are required to be inspected three times a year, according to LA County Health Department policy.
“I’d like to see three inspections a year in high-risk restaurants,” said LA County’s Bellomo.
Most restaurants are considered “high risk” because they handle raw meat, poultry, and fish.
But when I-Team examined the last two years of all restaurant inspections, it found thousands of high-risk restaurants aren’t getting anywhere near the required three inspections a year.
When 13 people who ate at Nobu contracted potentially deadly Norovirus in November 2014, the restaurant hadn’t had an inspection in over a year — October 2013. Nobu declined to comment to NBC4.
“You’re playing Russian roulette when you go out to dinner,” said Dr. Pete Snyder, a nationally known food safety expert who has trained health inspectors. “If you’re only inspecting once or twice a year, then the restaurants don’t fear you anymore.”
Diners are also finding that an “A” grade in the window doesn’t mean a restaurant has been inspected lately, or that it’s necessarily safe. Wolfgang’s, Coast Cafe at Shutter’s, Nobu, and Lunasia all had “A”s when people got sick there or when inspectors found critical violations.
“Wolfgang’s Steakhouse in Beverly Hills maintains the highest standards,” general manager Michael Connly told the I-Team in a statement.
“Shutter’s on the Beach operates under stringent health and safety standards in food preparation and cleanliness in the industry,” said Shutter’s GM Gregory Day, in an emailed statement to NBC4.
As for their cooks who we caught on camera eating on the job, a major violation, he added “any misconduct that may have taken place will be properly addressed.”
After getting sick at Lunasia, Holstein’s family said they have little faith in LA County’s inspection system or its letter grades.