ORLANDO, Fla. - Action 9 has dug deeper into Central Florida restaurants that kept flunking state inspections and discovered that the restaurants with the most violations paid minimal fines compared to restaurants in other states.
Action 9's Todd Ulrich asked if it's cheaper to pay fines than to keep a clean restaurant.
At Golden Dynasty, Action 9's inspector discovered raw chicken thawing at a temperature that breeds bacteria, a stained hole in a ceiling and a sanitizer solution so strong that the expert said it could be toxic.
"We're at a very dangerous temperature here," said Paul Cook, a retired Food and Drug Administration inspector. "The residue will just remain and it will stay on and get people sick."
The restaurant failed nine state inspections in a year.
"This would not pass an inspection today?" Ulrich said.
"No, I don't think so," Cook said.
Records said Golden Dynasty was fined $800.
New Buffet Village had the most violations in Central Florida, and it was fined $1,000.
"What message does that send to Buffet Village?" Ulrich said.
"That is a horrible record, and to be fined just $1,000 in two years means it's not taken very seriously," said Kevin Murphy, a University of Central Florida professor who specializes in food safety and sanitation.
Action 9 discovered that if the restaurants on its list of top 20 violators were located in other states, they'd likely pay larger fines.
Restaurants in the state of Maryland could be fined $2,500 for a second offense. Those in the city of Chicago could be fined $500 for each critical violation.
Based on those standards, restaurants on Action 9's list could have been fined between $10,000 and $30,000 instead of the average $850.
"Most states take their inspection system more seriously, and the fines (are) far more serious," Murphy said.
Assad Faruqui, Golden Dynasty's owner, invited Action 9 back to the restaurant. He said his restaurant had a near-spotless record before he was badly injured in a traffic crash.
"So, I was in and out of my restaurant," Faruqui said. "I tried my level best to maintain it properly."
The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation defended its inspections and fines, saying that it inspects troubled restaurants two or three times per year and uncovers serious health risks.
State regulators said failing to clean up restaurants doesn't necessarily increase the chance of diners being sickened. The number of illnesses peaked in 1998, but it has been increasing in recent years.
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