When you eat out, do you ever wonder how sanitary the kitchen is?

Officials recently announced that 69 restaurants, snack bars and cafeterias in Kings County received the award for food safety practices above and beyond minimum legal standards.

To win the Silver Star award, they had to pass all food safety evaluations, be inspected at least twice in 2015, have plans in place to prevent food safety failures and have no confirmed reports of food-borne illness outbreaks.

The winners received a certificate and a Silver Star window decal. They also were honored in a ceremony last month.

The 69 winners represent 11 percent of the approximately 620 eateries in Kings County subject to county health inspections.

“These are the places that the public needs to know about,” said Jeff Taber, deputy director of the Kings County Department of Public Health. “Our inspectors and myself have no problem bringing our families in there and eating.”

Taber said the winners have food safety procedures in place to ensure sanitary conditions throughout the year — not just on the few days they are inspected.

“That record means they have ways to correct issues and keep it safe,” he said.

What about the 89 percent of Kings County eateries that fell short of a Silver Star?

Taber said some are new, meaning they haven’t been inspected twice yet. He said that some of the recently opened restaurants on 12th Avenue such as Chipotle and Habit Burger fall into that category.

Taber said that most of the non-winners didn’t have any critical food safety violations. He said it’s “OK to eat there.”

“Their inspection says they’re passed,” he said.

Taber said all eateries by law must have at least one certified food manager on site who is responsible for food safety.

Taber said that in the better restaurants, several or even all of the employees are certified food safety managers.

Silver Star winner Toshiko Japanese Cuisine in Hanford is one such eatery.

“Everybody understands the rules and regulations,” said Executive Chef David Valenzuela. “Every single person on our staff has training.”

Valenzuela said the kitchen has separate sinks for different activities. He said there’s one for food preparation and another for hand-washing.

He credited the entire staff for helping Toshiko achieve the award.

“Without them, one man can’t do it,” he said.

Taber said the winners have a food safety hazard mitigation program that controls most if not all of the food handling that goes on at the eatery.

Taber said the law requires a plan for some critical procedures, but he said that the best eateries have plans in place with a broader scope.

“It really reflects the assumption of responsibility by the management, even when the inspector isn’t there,” said Keith Winkler, director of the Kings County Department of Public Health. “If you are proactive, violations don’t occur in the first place.”

One of the winners — Foster’s Freeze in Lemoore — has won the award every year since county officials launched the program in 1995.

Co-owner Ray Moore said the streak motivates him to keep standards high.

“It’s a very personal thing to me now,” he said. “I’m not one to accept second place.”

“You don’t do what you do because you’re going to get an award,” he said. “You do what you do because it’s the right thing to do.”

Moore said he pays most of his employees more than the minimum wage. He said he tries to attend to their personal needs, such as giving college students a work schedule that fits with their class schedules.

He also gives meal discounts to employees, including free meals for supervisors.

Taber said that some of the fast-food chain restaurants that didn’t win the award may pre-cook their food elsewhere, then ship the product frozen to Kings County locations.

“They’ve done it at the corporate level,” he said. “The try to take the highest-risk parts of their business and do it somewhere else.”

The reporter can be reached at snidever@hanfordsentinel.com or 583-2432. Follow him on Twitter @snidever.

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