Frank Yearwood is a big fan of Chipotle Mexican Grill and eats there once a week.
"I had the double steak burrito, extra cheese, extra sour cream, mild and hot salsa," Frank said.
"How was it?" asked ABC Action News anchor Wendy Ryan.
"Oh, it was delicious," he answered.
And he's not the only Chipotle fan we met.
"I've been hearing things about Chipotle, but I love Chipotle!" said Keenan Wooten, who also eats there regularly.
Still after 362 people got sick eating at Chipotle's around the country from E-coli, salmonella and norovirus, we wanted to know if bay area Chipotle restaurants are really safe. In a special Dirty Dining investigation, our I-Team looked through inspection reports for 35 Chipotle restaurants in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Polk, Sarasota, Manatee and Pasco counties.
Here's what we uncovered.
On Jan. 11, inspectors walked into Chipotle at 1608 Cortez Road West in Bradenton and saw a live, wild bird flying around the restaurant with open food at the front line, exposed to possible contamination. According to the inspection report, the manager says he was aware of the wild bird and it's a regular nuisance. But he wasn't aware the front door was held open by a chair, allowing wild animals to get in.
Animal control was called to remove the bird but when inspectors returned the next day, the live bird was still there! Chipotle was then issued an administrative complaint. This location had other administrative complaints filed for other violations not corrected in 2013, 2011, and 2010.
During the latest visit in January, inspectors discovered leafy greens at improper temperatures on the front line at 58 degrees when it should have been 41 degrees or below. They also found raw chicken stored above raw beef, which is a cross contamination issue. And the hand wash sink was not accessible for employees to wash their hands.
So Ryan went inside the restaurant to get some answers and met Manager Javier Toleban.
"Did you know you had a live bird in your restaurant?" Ryan asked Toleban.
"I already called them so I could get in trouble for that. I'm not allowed to answer any questions basically," Toleban replied.
"Even though you're the manager?" Ryan asked.
"Yes," he said.
"Can you at least comment that everything is safe?" Ryan pressed.
"I'm sorry, no. I'm sorry," Toleban said.
"Nothing?" Ryan asked again.
"Nothing, sorry about that," he said.
Ryan then went to visit a Chipotle at 1418 66 Street N. in St. Petersburg, where she found more loyal customers.
"The food here was good?" Ryan asked Kim Nicola and Bob Waltz.
"Yep, awesome," Kim said.
"What did you guys get?" Ryan asked.
"Chicken bowl," Bob replied.
But like many customers, they were unaware of a stop sale issued by the state recently on salsa and cheese due to dangerous temperatures that could make you sick. Most disturbing? Inspectors found the food sitting in a cooler that was turned off! The state documented the salsa at 59 degrees and cheese at 62 degrees when they should have been at 41 degrees or colder. So it all had to be thrown out due to "immediate danger to public safety."
Other major violations in the last year include equipment and utensils not properly sanitized, no proof of required state-approved employee training, and the manager having no food manager certification. When Ryan went into the St. Petersburg Chipotle, she met Service Manager Nick Eden.
"Due to upper authority, we're not allowed to disclose any information in regards to the restaurant," Eden said.
But Ryan asked him for more information.
"Are you aware of the stop sale that was given?" she asked.
"Yes, all I can tell you is that everything is up to date and inspections are 100 percent," Eden replied.
And Chipotle's loyal customers seem to believe it.
"So you'll be back?" asked Ryan.
"Oh yeah. we'll be back," said both Bob and Kim.
Chipotle Mexican Grill's Statement:
We have very high expectations of our restaurants and any time we see issues like this, it is not in line with those expectations. For 2016, we are increasing the frequency of audits of our restaurants for food safety and health issues and commissioning quarterly inspections from an independent third party. Fifty percent of our restaurant managers' bonuses will be contingent on scores from those audits. Chris Arnold Communications Director Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. 1401 Wynkoop Street, Suite 500, Denver CO 80202