WATERVILLE — A downtown Mexican restaurant is closed because a state health inspector last week found numerous health violations that include improper hygienic practices, inadequate heating and cooling of foods, and inadequate steps taken to prevent food contamination, according to a state report obtained this week.

The health inspection report, dated Dec. 8, said two people in charge at the Cancun Mexican Restaurant didn’t demonstrate that they were knowledgeable about how to handle food.

“The facility presents an Imminent Health Hazard to the public and is being asked to voluntarily close until the Critical Violations have been corrected,” the report said. “The facility is NOT permitted to re-open until a follow-up inspection is conducted and all health hazards have been corrected.”

The Cancun Mexican Restaurant in downtown Waterville was closed this week after a state health inspector found several violations, according to a state health report dated Dec. 8. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel

It went on to say that, “Neither staff member was able to correctly discuss cooking temperatures, hot holding temperature minimum, reheating requirements, or cooling parameters required by the food code. No active managerial control of hand washing or prevention of bare hand contact with RTE (ready to eat) foods.”

The eight-page report, signed by restaurant owner Hector Fuentes and state health inspector Barrett Evans, said restaurant staff that handled food did not appear to wash their hands. Equipment and surfaces where food was placed were not clean, it said.

The “inspector notes apparent rat droppings and evidence of rodent harborage in the food storage areas in the establishment,” the report said. “Health inspection staff observed multiple rat traps with fresh cheese present as well as rodent poisons applied. No licensed pest control in place. Please note: the conditions allowing harborage must be eliminated.”

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Meanwhile, the plumbing system was not properly maintained, plumbing fixtures such as hand-washing sinks, toilets and urinals were not cleaned often enough and restrooms were not being properly cleaned, according to the report.

“There is evidence of someone living in the food establishment,” it said. “Various personal hygiene products (shampoo, toothbrush, razors) and personal living items (clothing, shoes and bedding with beds) present downstairs in the establishment. Possible cooking being conducted in an area not approved by the fire department.”

The next official inspection date for the restaurant at 14 Silver St. has not been determined. The report said the restaurant must obtain licensed pest control, provide a report to a state health inspection program and all rodent and pest cleanup must be done according to Maine health guidelines.

Supervisors at Cancun must retake a food protection management course within two months, and other changes must be done within certain timeframes, such as correcting 15 “critical violations” within 10 days. If the restaurant fails to act then it will be subject to further enforcement proceedings such as fines and other penalties.

Robert Long, spokesman for the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention, said most restaurant operators are eager to reopen after they’re forced to close and are willing to correct violations.

“The Health Inspection Program’s first action after identifying violations is to educate owners about the problems and work with them to fix them,” Long said. “The program’s intent is to help businesses stay open, but in a way that does not put the public at risk.”

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Asked if it is unusual for a restaurant to have as many violations as those found at Cancun, Long said, “While more than 10 noncritical violations can be identified during inspections, it is less common to find this number of critical violations.”

Cancun was dark inside Wednesday and a sign on the door said it was closed.

The owner said Wednesday afternoon via email that all the violations have been fixed, and he expects the inspector to return on Thursday. Fuentes added that regardless of Thursday’s outcome, he expects to be closed another eight to 10 days because two of his employees have tested positive for COVID-19.

Daniel Bradstreet, Waterville’s director of code enforcement, said Tuesday that a city code enforcement officer also attended the health inspection and noted some potential life safety, plumbing and electrical code violations.

“We scheduled an additional inspection for today (Tuesday) in conjunction with the fire marshal and Fire Department regarding those issues,” Bradstreet said in an email. “I have been out this week and was not able to attend today’s inspection but expect that further citations for those violations will be forthcoming.”

This is not the first time the restaurant or its owner has been cited for violations.

Cancun was forced to close for a week in April for violating COVID-19 requirements. A state health inspector found that staff were not wearing face coverings and the restaurant failed to quarantine a sick employee while awaiting test results.

Fuentes was sentenced to a 30-month prison term in 2014 after pleading guilty in U.S. District Court to knowingly hiring 10 or more undocumented immigrants over the course of a year at his Westbrook restaurant and making false statements to federal agents.

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