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Restaurant inspections revealed

Maple syrup is poured into a small cup as the finishing touches are put on an order of French toast Friday morning at Café Teresa in Mitchell. Café Teresa received a score of 92 out of 100 on its latest health inspection. Scores above 80 are considered passing. (Chris Huber/Republic)

Since early 2011, Mitchell's eateries have passed more than 97 percent of state health inspections.

According to public records newly available online through the South Dakota Department of Health, 305 inspections have been performed at 91 licensed food-service establishments in Mitchell since early 2011.

Of those 305 inspections, eight resulted in a failing score -- a pass rate of 97.4 percent.

Bill Chalcraft, administrator of the state Office of Health Protection, said the scores in Mitchell are characteristic of what his department is seeing across the state.

"There are a small percentage of operators we spend more time with," he said. "Overall, most operators are very good and the scores reflect that."

State health inspections are scored on a 100-point scale with a score of 80 or greater considered a pass, while anything less than 80 is a fail. All licensed food-service establishments are subject to health inspections, from fullfledged restaurants to convenience stores that serve prepared food to the public.

Most establishments have two routine inspections each year, plus any made necessary by failing scores. Food-service providers are not notified about inspections in advance.

In most cases, a failed inspection triggers a follow-up visit in 60 days to make sure all violations have been corrected, according to the state Department of Health's website.

Six establishments are responsible for the eight failed inspections in Mitchell since early 2011. They are Coacher-Goetsch American Legion, Heng-Heng Chinese Restaurant, Pizza Ranch, Ramada Inn, Steak N' More and Whiskey Creek Wood Fire Grill.

Coacher-Goetsch American Legion scored a 71 on Jan. 27, 2011, and a 79 on Feb. 15, 2011, but has passed five inspections since, most recently on Nov. 9 with a 90.

Heng-Heng Chinese Restaurant scored a 79 on March 22, 2011, but has passed four inspections since, most recently on Dec. 12 with a 93.

Pizza Ranch scored a 79 on March 20, but has passed its one inspection since on May 21with an 89.

Ramada Inn scored a 78 on May 10, but has passed its one inspection since on Nov. 13 with an 83.

Steak N' More scored a 79 on Nov. 29. No more recent inspections have been reported, but the restaurant had passed its three prior inspections.

Whiskey Creek Wood Fire Grill scored a 77 on July 19, 2011, and a 74 on Sept. 28, 2011, but has passed three inspections since, most recently on Jan. 3 with a 93.

During an inspection, points are deducted for minor violations, such as cleanliness or equipment problems, and for critical violations that can cause illness or injury, such as storing food at unsafe temperatures or cross contamination between cooked and uncooked food.

Establishments can be temporarily shut down because of repeated violations, but Chalcraft said there are no pending closures in Mitchell at this time.

If an inspection results in a near failure, with a score at or just above 80, inspectors will generally meet with a public health adviser and decide how to proceed, Chalcraft said.

"They'll review those that are close and decide whether to issue a 60-day notice or not," he said.

There were 24 establishments in Mitchell listed with at least one score between 80 and 85 since early 2011. The average score for all the inspections was 91.8. There were 18 perfect scores.

According to the Department of Health's website, 94 percent of 4,100-plus licensed establishments scored 85 or higher in 2012. Scores statewide ranged from a low of 43 to a high of 100.

The Department of Health usually makes an establishment's four most recent scores available to the public through its website, a change implemented last summer. Before that, scores were only available by special request.

The switch to digital record-keeping has helped inspectors and businesses, Chalcraft said.

"It's a step forward," he said. "We'll continue to improve and refine the system over the years, and it will make a difference."

Inspection scores are available online, as are the number of critical violations reported in each inspection. The Department of Health is still working to make full reports of inspections available online and hopes to have those up by July 1, Chalcraft said.