El Rancherito closed due to numerous health code violations

El Rancherito on West Jackson St. was closed Monday due to multiple health code violations.

Macomb News

El Rancherito on West Jackson St. was closed Monday due to multiple health code violations.

Steven Barnum, Assistant News Editor

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The McDonough County Health Department will give El Rancherito one more chance.

Located on West Jackson Street, the establishment has been part of the Macomb community since its inception in 1994. El Rancherito is a family-owned, casual dining Mexican restaurant that was recently shut down due to serious health code violations.

Christopher Adams is the Director of Environmental Health for the McDonough County Health Department and he explained that the violations have been reoccurring. What stands out to Adams is the frequency of the problems, many of which are “foodborne risk factors.”

“They’ve been cited on several factors in the past,” Adams said. “We’ve trained staff to try to eliminate the occurrence and reoccurrence in those.” The violations he is referring to include using improper cooling methods and failing to maintain safe cooking temperatures.

There is a “temperature danger zone” that is breached when cold food isn’t prepared at temperatures 41 degrees Fahrenheit or cooler, and when hot food isn’t prepared at 140 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer. When those standards are not followed, it opens up the door for bacteria growth and food poisoning.

“In order for us to eliminate these risk factors, we have enforcement policies in place and unfortunately they have reached the third tier,” Adams said.

Reaching the third tier requires the owners of the restaurant to appear in front of the health board, where members have the power to further suspend, revoke or renew the license, which expires on Oct. 30. The meeting took place Thursday night, when the fate of the restaurant’s reputation and future were in jeopardy. Adams points to issues in the past that foreshadowed the restaurant’s closure.

“They have had repeat violations and they have had several foodborne risk factors on several inspections,” he said. “Generally, those don’t reoccur,” he said. Since there’s a history of allowing the violations to continue, the health department has been keeping a closer eye on the restaurant through more frequent inspections. This was especially crucial considering the violations had occurred even after numerous training sessions had taken place to try to correct those violations.

“We have had several other food facilities on extended inspections due to critical violations so the intent of increasing inspection is to eliminate that violation, in hopes of getting that practice and behavior under control,” Adams said. “But when that fails, we have enforcement policies.”

Tracy Mann is the restaurant’s food manager and she spoke on its behalf. Mann insists that the staff will no longer take their jobs for granted. “If you give us another chance, we are going to fix the problems and work as a team,” Mann said. “Teamwork is now our motto.”

One of those problems has already been addressed, according to Mann. Due to complaints about bugs, the restaurant now deploys a pest control team twice per month. Since then, the issue appears to have been corrected.

Other problems, however, will need more than a quick fix. Although ownership plans to be more involved in the kitchen and will make sure that every employee has a food manager’s license, it may not be enough to prevent the problems from reoccurring.

“They have five food-licensed employees as it is but we are still having problems, Adams said. “I think the facility lacks managerial control.”

A solution to fix that lack of control is to kick the supervision up a notch, according to Dr. Nancy Parsons. “There has to be a lot of micromanaging,” Parsons said.

Marcia Moll has been a board member for over four decades and was instrumental in its creation. She feels especially passionate about the violations, revealing that her nephew recently died from food poisoning.

“People don’t realize the impact that these violations have on people,” Moll said. When considering the restaurant’s future, she stressed that ownership has appeared in front of the board too often.“We have gone the extra mile and you are still here,” Moll said. “This problem goes back a long time.”

Critical violations are not new to El Rancherito, who once racked up seven separate violations during one inspection in 2013. Many around the community will be pleased that the restaurant is getting another shot; El Rancherito has a 3.9 out of five star rating on their Facebook page, and a four out of five star rating based on nearly 200 reviews on Google.

The restaurant chain has locations in six other cities across the state, including one in nearby Quincy, Ill. Per the Adams County website, the Quincy establishment is seldom issued violations. In the last three years of inspections, they have compiled an average score of 94 out of 100.

Unfortunately, Macomb has experience with restaurants failing inspections. Guadalajara closed its doors earlier this spring after a history of repeated violations.

“I would hate to see this restaurant close,” Parsons said. “Macomb needs a variety of restaurants. She also understands the severity of the violations. “I’m concerned about each one of these complaints.”

Ultimately, the board decided to renew the license under several conditions: the owners must come up with a concrete plan to fix the issues; the restaurant gets inspected twice by two outside food consultants before the license expires next month; and there are zero violations regarding cooking temperatures, sanitation and cross-contamination in future inspections. Given that those requirements are met, El Rancherito will live to fight another day.