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Wok on the Wild Side

Asian restaurants still get disproportionately high rate of poor inspection reports

By Kelly Luker

ONE QUICK GLANCE at the list of the dirty dozen reveals a potentially controversial fact--Asian-themed eateries earn half the spots on the list, yet statistically, they only make up about 16 percent of the 4,600 food establishments reviewed for this project. This issue is not new. In the early 1990s, the Asian Business Coalition complained to then-supervisor Michael Honda about what it perceived as unfair treatment by the health department of Asian food establishments. In response, a county study found that Asian restaurants accounted for most of the violations, were inspected more often than non-Asian restaurants and received 10 times as many "poor" ratings.

In a recent interview with Metro, however, Asian Business Coalition spokesperson Ken Kamai says that he has not heard of bias complaints from Asian restaurateurs in the past few years, due to a better working relationship with Environmental Health.

Although she did not know if Asian-themed restaurants had a greater number of problems, County of Santa Clara Environmental Health director of consumer protection Linda Keahey noted that there were certain variables that may be sources for violations.

"There's cultural differences in food expectancies," says Keahey. For example, she adds, many Asian customers prefer to-go lunch plates of shrimp and pork at room temperature, although that tends to be the ideal breeding temperature for food-borne illness.

In response, Environmental Health has worked with Asian restaurants to create a time-coding system that would work successfully for restaurant workers with limited English skills.

One example is what Thanh Mai sandwiches submitted as a procedure. Color-coded dots are put on the side of lunch plates, letting food workers know when a plate is to be discarded. Unfortunately, it is only recognizable to the food workers and the food inspector. A time-coding system that would incorporate information helpful to the consumer--such as time and date the product was made--is considered too complicated.

"[The time-coding information] is for the shop, so the shop can pull the food off the shelf [when it expires]," explains Keahey. "The consumer doesn't have an appreciation for what the time-coding means."

By the way, Thanh Mai's procedure was approved by Keahey's Department.

Introduction: Bottom Feeders.

Making The List: The methodology and ratings.

Not on the Menu: Gruesome complaints and bizarre things allegedly found in food.

Chew Fly, Don't Bother Me: Tory's Restaurant in Cupertino.

A Fowl Feeling: Mai Garden Restaurant in San Jose.

Fast Food Frightmare: Mr. Chau's Chinese Fast Food in Palo Alto.

Overly Greasy Spoon: Bob's Surf 'N Turf in San Jose.

Not Cool Enough: Gordon Biersch in Palo Alto.

Pastor Its Prime: El Mexicano Taqueria in San Jose.

How Fresh? Fresh N Healthy Vegetarian in San Jose.

Chill Is Gone: Nola in Palo Alto.

How Now Stale Bao? Thanh Mai in San Jose.

Coffee To Go, Please: My My Coffee and Sandwiches in San Jose.

Vermin in the Vermicelli: Florentine Restaurant in Mountain View.

Off-Screen Horror Show: Century Capitol 16 Theaters in San Jose.

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From the June 8-14, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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