PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Another case of hepatitis A has been confirmed at a popular local restaurant.
Red Lobster at 10500 East Ulmerton Road in Largo had an employee test positive for hepatitis A last week.
On Tuesday, July 30, the Pinellas County Health Department and the Division of Hotels and Restaurants conducted a joint inspection after they received confirmation of that hepatitis A case.
During that inspection, the state found almost 40 violations, which included employees not properly washing their hands.
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Doctors say that's how hepatitis A can be transferred from an infected person and into the food they're prepping.
The state saw the wait staff handle dirty dishes and then serve fresh food without washing their hands.
An inspector also saw the cook switch from working with raw food to ready-to-eat food without washing his hands. Another employee touched ready-to-eat food with his bare hands, according to the inspection report.
Inspectors also observed potentially hazardous cold food held at greater than 41 degrees Fahrenheit on the cook's line.
They found pico de gallo at 52 degrees Fahrenheit, cut cabbage at 57 degrees, corn salsa at 52 degrees, chicken at 45 degrees, fish at 50 degrees, beef steak at 47 degrees, leafy greens at 50 degrees, cut tomato at 50 degrees and shredded cheese at 50 degrees.
Other high priority violations included raw tuna stored over cooked shrimp and tortillas, a cross contamination issue. And build-up of old food debris or dirt on oven mitts, soda lines under the coke machine, inside the walk in freezer, on the menus, cutting board, iced tea dispenser, interior of the oven and on the walls.
Red Lobster Seafood Company released the following statement:
"The health and safety of our guests and team members is our top priority, and we are taking this matter seriously. We have been working closely with the Health Department to ensure safe practices as well as reinforce our best practices and implement preventative steps so our guests can feel good about dining with us."
Hepatitis A has become an epidemic in the Tampa Bay area and the state with more than 1,700 confirmed cases in Florida since January 2018.
The hepatitis A virus is spread when a person unknowingly ingests the virus from objects, food or drinks that have been contaminated with small undetected amounts of stool from an infected person.
Pinellas County Health Department is offering hepatitis A vaccines to the public at no cost at several vaccine centers. For more information on where you can get these free vaccines in Pinellas County, you can click here. Other Florida counties, including Hillsborough, also provide free or discounted hepatitis A vaccines. You can click here for more information.
For more information on hepatitis A and guidelines from the federal government, visit: www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hav/index.htm.