Health Department Roundup

Holy Guacamole: Iguana Joe's Temporarily Closed Due To Critical Health Violations

Getting sick after eating at a restaurant is never a fun thing. Especially if your entire family gets sick, too. On Father's Day weekend, approximately a dozen customers apparently got food poisoning from the Iguana Joe's in Humble, as reported by KHOU-TV. Many of the customers were showing signs of food poisoning that lasted nearly the entire day.

After several patrons called the Harris County Public Health & Environmental Services, the department initiated an investigation of Iguana Joe's and announced on Tuesday that the location would be temporarily closed.

In a statement emailed to Houston Press, Victor Ybarra, owner of Iguana Joe's, apologizes to any individuals who became sick after eating at Iguana Joe's.

"First and foremost, Iguana Joe's would like to sincerely apologize to those individuals who have been affected by this unforeseen incident. We want to assure them and the rest of our customers that we are working diligently with the Harris County Health department and will do everything possible to find the culprit of these regretful circumstances."
  Ybarra makes a note in his email that the location has "always scored very favorably" with its health inspections. Michael Schaffer, Director of Environmental Health at the Harris County Public Health & Environmental Services says that this is the first time the restaurant that has been open for two years has had critical violations.

"We had complaints coming in since last Thursday," Schaffer says. " We went out the next day, Friday, and the investigation didn't find a whole lot. We then received more complaints."

Schaffer says that after receiving more complaints, the department sent investigators to the restaurant on Saturday morning to see the process of prepping food, which is when they found the critical violations. The department found violations in how the workers were cooling foods after being cooked, holding cold and hot foods, as well as how they were keeping food contact surfaces clean.

"The establishment had a lot of food that was in that temperature danger zone (40-135 degrees F)," Schaffer says.

Keeping food between this range of temperatures causes bacteria such as salmonella to grow. Schaffer says that sour cream, guacamole and chicken were three of the main foods found to be improperly held in that danger zone.

After finding these violations, the health department informed Iguana Joe's about the procedures they needed to take to fix these violations. They sent an investigator to the restaurant on Monday to make sure that these violations were fixed.

"We found the violations were not corrected," Schaffer says. "We found the same issues."

At that point, the Harris County Public Health & Environmental Services made the decision to temporarily close Iguana Joe's. The department will now retrain the staff at the restaurant Thursday morning through a two-hour food safety class.

Once the staff is retrained, Schaffer says it is up to the discretion of the owner to reopen the restaurant. If the owner does decide to reopen, the health department will hold another inspection to make sure the restaurant operates properly and most importantly, follows health and safety guidelines.

Lesson learned, Houston. if you get sick at a restaurant, report the incident. You might be able to save a few others from getting sick as well.

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Molly Dunn
Contact: Molly Dunn