TEWKSBURY — On Thursday, Nov. 5, the Tewksbury Board of Health held a special meeting to discuss action taken by the town sanitarian against Lisa’s Pizza, 2312 Main St. The owners requested a public hearing to address the suspension of their permit to operate a food establishment as stated in an Oct. 30, 2020 notice.
Representing Lisa’s Pizza were co-owners Danny Nasr and David Arshakayan, attorney Gordon Glass, and Food Safety Consultant Eileen Hicks.
Chairman Raymond Barry prefaced the hearing by explaining the food establishment inspection process in Tewksbury; the department issues 150 food permits per year and would like to do inspections twice per year. Due to limited staff and now the COVID-19 pandemic, the department cannot keep pace.
That said, Barry explained that when the health department does visit a food establishment, it is not with the intent of educating the business owner, rather the hope is that it is just a check-in and that all procedures are being followed, and the owners are “maintaining high standards.”
Additionally, Barry explained that the infrequency of health inspections does not absolve the food establishment owner of following the rules as laid out in their initial permit to operate.
Health Department Director Susan Sawyer explained that it is not common for her office to have to take this kind of action for a food establishment in Tewksbury, but it does happen. In the case of Lisa’s Pizza, a resident contacted the health department regarding a general cleanliness complaint.
Town Sanitarian Shannon Sullivan investigated the complaint on Oct. 29. As Sullivan was documenting findings, it was clear that the situation “rose to a level that was unsafe for the public to eat food from that establishment.”
Sullivan closed the establishment and then Sawyer and Sullivan met with the owners the next day, going over point by point the issues that resulted in the suspension of the permit to operate a food establishment.
During the hearing, which was broadcast via Webex and posted on the town’s YouTube channel, documented issues were read by Sawyer “including but not limited to improper sanitization practices, improper cooling of time/temperature-controlled foods, staff not properly trained in food safety practices, (and) food contact with surfaces soiled.”
The attorney for Lisa’s Pizza outlined the steps that Sawyer had provided to the owners in order to come into compliance. Glass stated that the owners promptly hired a food service consultant, Eileen Hicks.
Hicks expressed that she would like to watch the operation live so that she can make adjustments “on the spot” to keep employees in compliance with the Food Code. Hicks provided a “crash course” initially when retained by the owners. The Food Code is an FDA directive for safeguarding public health and ensuring that food is unadulterated when presented to the consumer.
Chairman Barry explained that a food safety consultant is a standard recommendation, including an action plan and training plan. Barry referenced a checklist of good practices and that the consultant is typically retained for a period of time. Copies of monthly inspection reports are provided to the board to ensure “a long term solution” is reached, according to Barry.
Chairman Barry asked the owners about their experience and both expressed long and varied backgrounds in food service. Chairman Barry said that he was “puzzled” how two owners with such experience could let their establishment operate in such a manner, but wanted to be sure that any plan that was agreed upon was followed.
The attorney for the owners expressed concern to have the operation re-opened as quickly as possible. Barry asked what conditions must be met before the health department conducts a reinspection.
Sawyer explained that part of the department’s job is to educate and explain to owners that it is expected that the Food Code is followed.
“We want you to be excited when we visit, to show us that yes, you’ve been doing what’s been recommended.”
Sawyer explained there is a clear path in the Food Code from when an establishment is closed to when it can open again.
“We want to empower the professional to come up with the best plan for that particular restaurant.”
The meeting concluded with a motion by the board that the owners contract with their consultant for an initial period of six months, provide periodic reports to the board, a planogram of the equipment in the facility including serial numbers, and assurance of training on “the big dipper” grease trap used in the facility.
No date for re-inspection or opening was provided at the meeting; however, when contacted for an update, Sawyer indicated the shop had re-opened on Nov. 7. According to Sawyer, the owners will continue to work with their consultant for a period of time and she will be communicating with the Health Dept. as needed.