Inspectors with Arapahoe County's new health department are giving CBS News Colorado an up-close, behind-the-scenes look at how they make sure the restaurants serving up your favorite dishes aren't putting you at risk.
Inspectors Michael Morgan and Odina Trotman have been with the Arapahoe County Health Department since it first began operations in January this year, after Tri-County Health Department was dissolved last year.
"It was kind of a little bit rough at times, but when we got into it the first of January, we were ready to go ready to start those inspections," Trotman recalled. "The transition has been amazing."
Morgan and Trotman are two of a staff of 12 total inspectors for the new department, but ideally, the county says, the department would like to have 21.
"We are hoping in future years, as county budget allows, we are able to increase the number of inspectors so we can build stronger partnerships and ensure all our facilities receive tailored attention and education they need to be successful," a county spokesperson told CBS News Colorado. "However, Public Health as a sector is very good at adapting and being resilient, and while we need more inspectors, we are working to keep up a high level of service despite being short-staffed."
Trotman -- who has been an inspector for two years, and previously worked for Tri-County Health -- says the staffing challenges have made her stronger.
"With us bringing in more employees, it helps me stay on my toes because we're always out there, training those new employees and helping them be familiar with the facilities and asking questions and also education. So, it just makes me stay informed on that code," she said. "I think that's the best thing about it."
The inspectors get to see delicious cuisines from cultures all over the world represented in Arapahoe County communities. They can perform unannounced healthy and safety inspections at three to four restaurants per day.
This Wednesday, they took a closer look at the Cuba Bakery and Cafe in Aurora.
They start in the kitchen, testing temperatures of both ready-to-eat meals and foods still sitting in the freezer. They observe dish and hand washing procedures, and quiz the manager in charge about safety protocols.
The cafe passed its inspection with flying colors, but not all restaurants in Arapahoe are so clean.
The county's database shows out of the 1,355 businesses inspected since January, 135 were required to undergo a "re-inspection" due to too many violations -- that's about 10% of businesses that didn't pass.
The database shows four more restaurants were one point away from not passing.
Some of the violations found included cockroaches in the kitchen, employees not washing hands, utensils not cleaned properly, and undercooked chicken.
However, since January, no restaurants have received a score bad enough to be shut down, according to the database.
Morgan says the county health department's approach is all about education to help restaurants stay open safely.
"That's the most critical thing, if you just were to give people citations, they don't typically learn from those things," he said. "So, we come in, we look at all the different food safety topics that we go over, we make sure hey, does the manager know what they're talking about... and if they don't know, we're there to provide resources for them."
For team leaders like Lauren Hernandez Fuentes at Cuba Bakery and Cafe, that education is welcomed.
"I'm not going to deny that it can be a little hard and it makes you nervous, you know, because you always want to do everything okay... but that's the idea of what it is for you to learn to try to do it the right way," she said. "They're doing their job, and if their job is being done correctly, that means that ours is being done the same way, and that we're caring about everybody. So, it's a job and a good job and for good reason. So, nobody needs to be afraid."
To see the inspection results at your favorite restaurant in Arapahoe County, click here and type the name in the search bar on the page.
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