REPORT: 42% of Restaurants At Sea-Tac Airport Had "Critical" Violations

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According to an independent USA Today review of inspection records (link to story here) of nearly 800 restaurants at 10 airports, 42% of 57 restaurants reviewed at Sea-Tac Airport had at least one “critical” violation.

A “critical” violation is one where food items, such as sandwiches, meats or salads, are stored at dangerously warm temperatures, increasing the risk of food-borne illnesses.

According to the report:

A USA TODAY review of inspection records for nearly 800 restaurants at 10 airports found items such as tuna salad and turkey sandwiches stored at dangerously warm temperatures, raw meat contaminating ready-to-eat foods, rat droppings and kitchens lacking soap for workers to wash hands.

Serious violations, which can increase the risk of illness, are common. On the most recent inspections available online, 42% of 57 restaurants reviewed at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport had at least one “critical” violation. So did 77% of 35 restaurants reviewed at Reagan National Airport.

Grab-and-go coolers often don’t keep sandwiches and salads cold enough to stop dangerous pathogens, reports show.

Our recommendation to avoid possible food sickness at airports? Buy only cooked items, never “grab & go” foods.

Rueben Varghese of the Arlington County, Va., health department, said airport restaurants are similar to others: “Most people dine out all the time and do very well.”

We put a call into the Port of Seattle for comment on this, and here’s a response from their Media Officer Perry Cooper:

The USA Today story left out some very important context. Not to mention, we disagree with the personal recommendation you note.

First off, Sea-Tac Airport and the Port of Seattle require vendors to go through rigorous inspections ABOVE AND BEYOND governmental standards and contractually have to meet additional food safety and facility maintenance inspections. These stiff requirements are not routine at other establishments and are an additional layer of quality assurance for the traveling public here at Sea-Tac. We believe these inspections make food even safer for the public.

Now for the missing context, which comes straight from King County Public Health. The violations noted in the story, and the link to the Public Health website, are in the normal range for all establishments in King County and around the country. The critical violations noted are the type that are rectified “before” an inspector leaves the premises. There are 29 different issues that can be the basis of red critical violations, and even the best establishments have these kinds of violations. These can include issues in the temperatures for keeping hot or cold food and hand-washing practices. Sea-Tac Airport is not out of the ordinary and falls within the trend of food establishments.

No Sea-Tac establishments have ever been closed for food safety or public health concerns.

In addition to Public Health inspections, Sea-Tac concessionaires are contractually required to have minimum quarterly inspections of all equipment to be properly maintained, i.e. fryer, exhaust fans, hot water heaters; inspections for grease accumulation, water leaks; and monthly pest control.

Sea-Tac Airport is confident in the food safety practices of our vendors and continue to monitor their procedures rigorously. Sea-Tac establishments have not received any ‘major’ violations and none have ever been closed in the memory of our staff.

Finally, I would also like to gently object to your opinion on “grab and go” items. If this is a personal preference, that’s up to each individual. However, within a story about food safety to try and link “grab and go” items as potentially unsafe, is a grand generalization and, frankly, not supported by fact. Personally, I eat “grab and go” items frequently for lunch at work, as do thousands of others who work here, and have never experienced anything beyond a satisfying meal. You are correct that if passengers should be wary to buy an item the requires cold and wait too long before eating it, but that’s a generalization for any food, anywhere.

Read the full USA Today story here.


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