Two Ardmore food establishments received low scores after a recent health inspection found multiple violations at their shared location. The owner claims the violations have nothing to do with customer food and everything to do with an uncaring system.

Whitt's Barbecue and Weston's Wings are listed at the same address on Jones Avenue in Ardmore, Alabama. On Feb. 6, Weston's was given a score of 76 and Whitt's was given a score of 68 after health inspector Kent Holsclaw reported violations ranging from no paper towels at a hand sink to sewage on the ground outside.

While Holsclaw said the issues were resolved within 48 hours of the initial inspection, restaurant owner Weston Whitt believes they never should have been issues to begin with.

"None of this report has anything to do with anything the customer consumes," he said. "Nothing."

According to the critical items list provided by the Limestone County Health Department, both restaurants were docked points for "sewage outside on ground."

Whitt told The News Courier it was a “bad idea” from a previous year and was mostly water.

“It was just a bad idea,” Whitt said. “We thought we could use it for a grease thing, but we stopped using it a year ago. It filled up with water and he marked it off as sewage. He made me pour concrete in it.”

In a video posted to YouTube, Whitt is seen walking outside the restaurant while a camera follows him. He stops at what he says is a source of docked points and shows himself walking through the liquid.

“Keep in mind that this has nothing to do with your health while eating our food,” he says as he walks around the restaurant. “... They don’t care about you, the public, the general public. They care about stuff like this.”

He tells the camera the liquid is only water.

“It’s not grease,” he says. “It’s not sewage. He’s calling it sewage, but why would I stand in sewage? This is water.”

However, it doesn’t have to be the kind of sewage one might see from a clogged septic tank to be considered sewage. The health department defines anything that has food particles or food juices as sewage, Holsclaw said.

He said the definition is broad and anything from old mop water to a filled grease can could fall under its umbrella. He said this specific situation was more than likely a result of rain pooling up in an area that couldn’t be drained, but it still provided the opportunity for bacteria and hazards to health.

“Whether it be from a septic tank or spilled grease or even raw chicken that’s dripping on the floor of the walk-in cooler, you walk in, track it along, and it’s considered sewage,” Holsclaw said. “It’s liquid waste.”

Sinks

Other items on the list involve sinks. In the YouTube video, Whitt showed one of multiple sinks in the back of the joint establishment that did not have paper towels.

“We don’t even use this hand-washing sink that much because everybody who washes their hands here (in this section of the restaurant) washes their hands in the restroom back here,” Whitt says in the video, pointing off camera.

He then goes back to Whitt’s Barbecue’s score sheet, where 4 points have been removed for “lack paper towels at hand sink.” Four points were also marked off for Weston’s Wings.

Holsclaw explained the Alabama Department of Public Health requires paper towels or an air dryer at all sinks, regardless of how often they’re used, just in case.

“If you wash your hands and there are no paper towels, you’re probably gonna use your clothes,” he said. “You can’t use cloth towels, you can’t use an apron; it has to be paper towels or a blow dryer.”

He said even if employees enter the bathroom and wash their hands there, they have to touch the same door knob they used to enter when they close the door behind them or open the door to leave.

“You’d need to wash your hands again,” he said.

Another item related to sinks was specific to Whitt’s Barbecue and not featured in the YouTube video. Five points were docked for “prepping ribs in unsanitized 3 comp sink,” according to the critical items list, after Holsclaw witnessed an employee washing ribs in a sink with dishes.

“He said he doesn’t normally do that, but what it boils down to is we’ll go back and if he does it in front of me again, it’ll be a mark-up and an issue,” Holsclaw said.

Whitt told The News Courier a cook was running hot water over frozen ribs, but the ribs were wrapped in green plastic.

“They come in a piece of plastic and frozen,” Whitt said. “The inspector wants me to cook the ribs with the plastic on it. You can’t do that. You’d have green plastic on (the ribs). So my cook comes up here and runs a frozen rib under some hot water to get the plastic off so you, the customer, don’t get plastic inside their body.”

Holsclaw, who has been with ADPH for 25 years, said he didn’t see plastic of any color on the ribs. Beyond that, he said, no food prep should have happened in the sink without it being cleaned and sanitized first.

Stricter rules

Whitt said he’s been in the food industry in some capacity since he was a child. Now 40 years old, he said he laughs when he sees restaurants get similar scores, because no matter what the score, “maybe 10 percent has to do with food contamination.”

“I’m being honest when I tell you they don’t check the food,” he said Thursday. “If you look at what they mark off, even on a 98 score, it has nothing to do with the food. ... I swear on my life, they don’t check anything a customer consumes. Even with a good score, it’s not protecting the public.”

But, he said, he’s not mad at Holsclaw or even the Limestone County Health Department.

“These are laws made up in Montgomery that the health department has to go by,” he said. “They’re really the bosses over the health department, but Montgomery doesn’t really care. They send people in and mark off for everything that ain’t got anything to do with the food.”

Whitt called those in Montgomery the problem and called on others in the restaurant industry to join him in speaking out.

“I think (the health inspectors) need to be stricter and start checking the food,” Whitt said. “Don’t worry about the dumpster. Don’t worry about that little water thing. Let’s worry about what the customer is consuming. Make sure that’s safe. Make sure we don’t hurt anybody. They don’t do that, though.”

What happens next

Holsclaw said any restaurant with a score below 70 gets a return visit from the health department within 48 hours to see if all 4- or 5-point violations have been corrected. These items are listed in red ink on the inspection report.

The location is home to Weston’s Wings restaurant but serves as the cooking facility for the Whitt’s Barbecue location in Ardmore, Tennessee. Holsclaw said the last inspection, which occurred in December, resulted in a 78 each for Weston’s and Whitt’s.

Critical items from that inspection included a dog in the building and an ash tray on an active prep table. Again, all items were corrected in a timely fashion, but establishments with a score below 85 are inspected again within 30 to 60 days.

“If they get back above an 85, they fall back on a normal, four-month inspection schedule,” he said. “Anything below 60 will have to close immediately.”

Whitt said he’s received several scores above 85. The most recent was August 2018, when Weston’s Wings received a 92.

Whitt also said he is only affiliated with the Ardmore, Tennessee, location of Whitt's Barbecue.

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