Acton 9 went to some local restaurants and saw things like raw chicken on the cooler floor, in a puddle of dirty water, a can opener coated in crusted food debris and frozen fish thawing in stagnant water.
"What's the risk here?" Action 9 reporter Todd Ulrich asked food safety expert Roy Costa
"Well you're going to get bacteria growth here in that water," said Costa.
Costa, a retired state inspector, spotted serious problems inside Crazy Buffet near Orlando. The location had been New China Buffet, which failed many inspections. With a new owner, we were allowed to see if the kitchen improved. But Action 9's consultant said big food safety issues remained, like that chicken on the cooler floor.
"You've got a contamination problem on the floor, when you put the food there, it will pick it up," said Costa.
The restaurant had passed a Florida inspection in November without serious violations.
Action 9 pored over 30,000 state inspections since 2010 to identify top offenders. New on our list, PJ's Sea Shack in New Smryna Beach and Soup to Nuts Diner in Tavares.
Soup to Nuts Diner was featured on Food Network, where the host declared it one of the dirtiest kitchens he ever saw.
Another top violator, New Texas Fried Chicken and Pizza, flunked five inspections in a year. An inspector had found shredded cheese contaminated with machine oil. Costa saw big improvements like the hand-wash sinks, but some prep food was not hot enough, and the refrigeration temperature could be risky.
"This would be a high-priority violation," said Costa.
Since last year, state inspections at Relax Grill on Lake Eola showed dramatic improvement.
Not the case at China Lee Express on Kirkman -- they've been on Action 9's list for three years. We found the kitchen door propped wide open and uncovered cooked food stacked on top of boxes.
"That's a big issue?" Ulrich asked.
"Absolutely," said Costa.
Action 9 asked the owner why he had problems with inspections, but he would not answer our questions.
Soup to Nuts in Tavares does have a new kitchen, and the owner said it passed an inspection just last week. At PJ's Sea Shack, the owner said there is totally new management, and it passed two recent inspections.
Action 9 identified restaurants with repeated violations by analyzing and scoring state inspections completed by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation from April 1' 2010 through April 1' 2013.
We assigned two points to critical, high priority, and intermediate violations that can directly impact food safety. We assigned one point to routine and basic violations.>