FARMINGTON — The recent closure of the Fortune Fountain Chinese restaurant for at least 30 days because of repeated health code violations highlights how the state agency overseeing inspections enforces food safety regulations.

The closure last week stems from numerous violations cited against the restaurant spanning 11 state health inspections there since Jan. 24, 2011, according to Lisa Roy, manager for the Maine Center for Disease Control’s Health Inspection program.

This is the first mandatory 30-day closure ordered by Roy statewide since she took over as the program’s manager in 2008. It involves a temporary suspension of the restaurant’s license that may become permanent if the violations are not corrected, she said.

Other health inspections that found excessive violations during this period resulted in owners voluntarily closing an establishment to fix problems, which typically lasts a few days, Roy said.

This happened, for instance, at Fortune Fountain because of several violations cited in a November health inspection, she said.

That voluntarily closure was resolved because the restaurant owners met the deadlines to correct critical violations required to reopen, Roy said. Since then, however, new complaints filed with the program about the restaurant prompted further inspections and culminated in the closure last week, she added.

“With the long history of excessive violations, we felt it was prudent to close them down,” Roy said.

A sign in front of the 605 Wilton Road restaurant reads “closed for renovations.” A woman was painting the entranceway Friday afternoon. Another woman, who would not give her name or answer questions, said the restaurant is under the new management and ownership by Henry Chen. He did not return a request for comment Friday.

There was no answer Friday at a phone number for a restaurant representative, Lottie Chan, listed in state health inspection reports. The Farmington restaurant is near the Wilton town line.

The state’s health inspection program doesn’t post reports on its website, but makes them available to the public upon request, Roy said, adding an establishment is not obligated to notify the public of findings.

She said the program’s responsibility is to ensure violations are found and corrected.

Imminent health hazard

The most recent inspection report cited nine critical and 15 non-critical violations and issued an imminent health hazard finding on May 1. The inspector supported the finding by writing, “excessive violations and lack of faith in management to operate in a safe and sanitary manner.”

Among the cited violations were inspector’s notes that employees didn’t wash their hands between handling raw food and ready-to-eat food, the report states. It said utensils were used in a similar unsafe fashion.

Other violations in the report stated the hand washing sink in the food preparation area was blocked by buckets and the lavatory didn’t have hand cleanser, sanitary towels or hand dryers and lacked appropriate signs to instruct employees.

Several violations cited in the report noted containers, surfaces, equipment and utensils used in cooking and preparation were encrusted with food residue. Other violations stated that food was not maintained at proper temperatures.

Other violations cited in the report included ceiling and walls in the rear storage area that needed repair and food storage violations.

The inspector noted that during the visit he found pork in a stainless steel serving dish kept at 65 degrees in a rice cooker. When an employee started to move the dish into an oven, the inspector had the owner dispose of the pork instead, according to the report.

Records of several complaints in 2011 that prompted investigations cite patrons who reported being served spoiled food, finding bugs in drinks and falling ill after eating at the restaurant.

An inspection in September found violations including flies throughout the restaurant and rat feces on the floor of a dry goods storage area, the report states.

Roy said numerous inspections last year turned up excessive violations, but the restaurant corrected many by set deadlines to avoid further action.

“They were making improvements, but when we would go back there were some repeat (violations),” she said.

The state agency issued an initial imminent health hazard finding against the restaurant on Nov. 9 that cited eight critical and 29 non-critical violations and forced the restaurant to close to fix the problem.

Inspectors followed up and approved the restaurant’s reopening after a few days, Roy said.

Roy said her office frequently worked with the restaurant owners to address the violations. At one point, the owners attended a meeting at the office headquarters in Augusta, where an interpreter who spoke Mandarin was provided to explain what was required of them, she added.

Most of the inspection reports, however, show several repeat violations of varying severity. They also outline the required correction action the restaurant owners had to take to remain open, ranging from hiring a pest control company to a licensed plumber.

The reports also note that the restaurant was charged $100 to cover the cost of some inspections, which is a penalty that kicks in after the first two inspections.

The state health inspection program has the authority to suspend an establishment’s license for up to 30 days, with any suspension beyond that requiring legal action, Roy said.

The state attorney general’s office assists on extended suspensions and permanent revocation of an establishment’s license.

David F. Robinson — 861-9287

[email protected]

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