How the Barracks Row Popeyes Fell Through the Cracks at DC Department of Health
By Larry Janezich
Posted December 28, 2021
ANC6B invited the Food and Safety and Hygiene Division of the DC Department of Health to its December 14 meeting to talk about restaurant inspections. Ivory Cooper, Food Technologist at the DC Department of Health, gave a lengthy presentation on the DC food safety inspection process and FDA guidelines.
After the presentation, ANC6B Chair Brian Ready, referred to the “elephant in the room” – the early November closure of the Barracks Row Popeyes, not as the result of conditions discovered by DC Department of Health, but only after a video by a deliveryman showing a rampant rat infestation inside went viral on Tik Tok and Twitter. The now-closed restaurant was in Ready’s Single Member District and Ready asked Cooper how often his agency inspects restaurants.
Cooper said that the number of inspections is based on how at-risk the Department regards an establishment. Restaurants are ranked 1 through 5, and the intent, he said, is to inspect those in categories 4 and 5 four times a year, and those in categories 1 – 3, two or three times a year. He said, “We reach that benchmark in some cases,” and cited staff shortages as a reason they do not.
Ready said that the issue at the Barracks Row Popeyes was “not new” and had existed for some length of time and wondered if the restaurant had been inspected often enough. He noted that the restaurant had passed inspection and the public didn’t know what conditions were like until the video was aired. “What are you doing to make sure this doesn’t happen again?” he asked.
Cooper said, “We can only cite what we see – our ability to inspect has been limited by the pandemic and when that happens, a site can get out of control. The inspection is based on the moment we go in. It can be clean today and different tomorrow. We can only cite what we see when we’re there. We may miss things or when we go, there may not be a problem. Any time the public reports an issue, we respond within two business days. An inspection is only a snap shot – we are on site one to one and a half hours – five hours out of 365 days. A restaurant can get away with a lot.”
Commissioner Alison Horn asked if inspections are random and whether restaurants get advance notice of inspections. Cooper replied that inspections are random, but proximity of inspections at other places can be a tip off and so can timing – the knowledge that a restaurant will be inspected every four months.
Cooper gave the address of a public website where residents can see which restaurants have violations. https://dc.healthinspections.us/?a=Inspections