WEST PALM BEACH - It's a dirty secret in the restaurant industry. Fines paid by thousands of businesses because their kitchens are not clean. The Consumer Watchdog dug through the data to find out the worst offenders. Since 2010, local restaurants paid more than $1.3 million dollars in fines.
Restaurant owners want you to see their clean, crisp dining area, but it's what customers don't see that food safety experts say could make you sick.
"People should really know that this is going on," said Fred Stein.
Stein owns Safe Food Connection , and helps restaurants develop a food safety culture.
The Consumer Watchdog dug through state inspection records for this year, and found the restaurants fined the most have been fined before.
"That's really concerning," said Stein.
Boca Pita Express (7158 Beracasa Way in Boca Raton) is at the top of the list.
"The quality of the food is great. The service is great," said customer Dr. Lipman. "The state probably needs money, or the city, or whoever's doing the fining, you know how that goes."
Customers like Boca Pita Express, but state inspectors had concerns. The restaurant was fined $4,080 for potential cross-contamination of raw chicken that was over the cucumbers in the walk-in cooler, potentially hazardous cooked chicken that was held for more than 24 hours and not properly date marked. Inspectors also found rusted shelving & soiled material on the slicer.
"They came to me over here when I was in renovation," said Owner Eli Amsanem.
The state only fines restaurants that have repeat violations that they haven't fixed.
"They came the first time. They gave me some violation. I tried to correct it. I didn't have time to correct it. They came again. That's why I got this violation," said Amsanem.
Boca Pita Express also paid a fine in 2011.
"Everything has been corrected," said Amsanem. "I do owe the money. I have no money to pay it."
The owner may owe even more money if he doesn't clean up his act. The state issued 28 warning during the last inspection a few weeks ago. Click here to see the recent inspection report .
"I think many of the restaurants understand how the system works," said Stein.
"If you don't have a system then they might not take it so seriously because the public doesn't know your restaurant is in violation or is dirty," said Stein.
That's why the Consumer Watchdog is exposing the worst of the worst.
Big Apple Pizza of St. Lucie paid the second highest fine of $3800. Our calls were not returned, but the restaurant told the state it's under new management.
Kabuki Sushi and Thai (308 Clematis Street in West Palm Beach) got a new manager too, after the restaurant was fined $3400 for potentially hazardous shrimp, eel, and sushi fish.
"It's such a high fine and nobody wants to pay," said new manager Anna Toigb. "We learned from this and have staff training more frequently."
But, is everyone really learning from their mistakes?
The state fined Saffron (731 Village Blvd #110-111 in West Palm Beach) $3280 in February; the fourth highest fine this year.
Eight months later, in mid October, inspectors found 45 violations.
"I don't think so we have any problems. Did you see that? We don't have any problems," the owner said at the time.
The map below shows the restaurants fined since 2010. Data courtesy of Division of Business and Professional Registration.
If you want to search to see if your favorite restaurant was fined since 2010, click here .
Top 10 fines this year
|1. BOCA PITA EXPRESS||7158 BERACASA WAY||BOCA RATON||33433||4080|
|2. BIG APPLE PIZZA OF ST LUCIE WEST INC||872 SW ST LUCIE WEST BLVD||PORT ST LUCIE||34986||3800|
|3. KABUKI SUSHI- THAI||308 CLEMATIS ST||WEST PALM BEACH||33401||3400|
|4. SAFFRON||731 VILLAGE BLVD #110-111||WEST PALM BEACH||33409||3280|
|5. TAQUERIA HUETAMO||1499 S CONGRESS AVE STE 5||DELRAY BEACH||33445||2920|
|6. LA PERRADA DEL GORDO BOCA||23039 SR 7||BOCA RATON||33428||2800|
|7. SUSHI YAMA JAPANESE RESTAURANT||7050 W PALMETTO PARK RD BAY 33||BOCA RATON||33433||2500|
|8. SHANE'S RIB SHACK||950 N CONGRESS AVE STE 100||BOYNTON BEACH||33426||2400|
|9. CHICKEN KITCHEN||9834 GLADES RD STE C-10||BOCA RATON||33434||2300|
|10. TAKE OUT GOOD FOOD||306 E BOYNTON BEACH BLVD||BOYNTON BEACH||33435||2100|
State revising inspection system
"That's an insult," Stein said.
Stein said he's shocked what owners tell the Consumer Watchdog, and it makes him wonder if the current system is working.
In states like New York, restaurants get letter grades and have to display their score for everyone to see.
"Those restaurants are motivated to have an A in their window," Stein explained.
We asked if it will ever happen in Florida.
"You're going to have to ask the politicians. I think it's a good question to pose to them," Stein said.
The state said a grading system provides incomplete information on a restaurant's inspection history and may be misleading.
It's moving to a risk based system in July so restaurants that tend to have the most violations will be inspected more often.