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Charlottetown restaurant shut down due to 'imminent risk' to public health

The Unique Wok restaurant has been shut down indefinitely by public health officials.

The Charlottetown restaurant, also known as the Golden Wok, was cited for 30 food safety violations during a surprise inspection on Jan. 21, and the province took the unusual step of closing the restaurant immediately.

"We only do that in a case where we think there is an imminent risk to public health," said Ryan Neale, manager of environmental health at P.E.I's Department of Health and Wellness.

"Given the types of violations and the critical nature of those, we felt that by closing the establishment we immediately eliminated the risk to the public."

Violations ranged from failing to store and heat food at proper temperatures to evidence of insects and rodents, unsanitary washroom conditions, and improper hand washing.

In addition, inspectors had to throw out a "significant amount of food" that was considered contaminated, said Neale.

The dishwasher was broken and there was no system to sanitize food preparation equipment or dishware, he said. In addition, the two hand wash stations were not working so employees were unable to wash their hands properly.

"There was evidence of insects and rodents: insects in the storage areas and evidence of rodents in food storage, food preparation and dishwashing areas," said Neale.

2nd closure

This is the second closure for Unique Wok in the past year. Health officials shut it down in August after finding 16 violations, but cleared it to reopen after a week, after officials were satisfied the problems had been fixed.

It passed a routine inspection in October.

Neale told CBC he believes it's the first time in about 15 years that health officials have had to close a restaurant.

While the restaurant was reopened after a week in the summer, this time the closure will be longer, said Neale.

"At this point in time we're really not considering whether or not the premise would reopen," said Neale.

The sign on the front door of the Unique Wok says the restaurant is closed until further notice. (Sally Pitt / CBC)

He said over the next couple of weeks his staff will meet with the owner to review the food safety requirements and the importance of protecting their customers.

The owner and one staff member have had food safety training, said Neale.

"We're going to be looking at additional training for these folks as well as training for the other staff in the establishment," he said.

If the owner is able to make all the necessary improvements, he will still need to convince officials that those standards will be maintained.

"That's going to be a big part of our conversation going forward with this operator, who will be held to a high standard if and when we get to a point where he's interested in reopening," said Neale.

If the restaurant reopens it will be held to a high standard, says Ryan Neale. (John Robertson / CBC)

Environmental health staff have been working with the restaurant owner and staff to remedy ongoing food safety issues, and inspected the restaurant nine times in 2018.

The Unique Wok had 25 violations last year. In 2017, it had 37 violations – the highest number of any restaurant on P.E.I. that year.

Neale said the vast majority of restaurants are very diligent in maintaining food safety standards. His staff has more than 3,000 inspections per year, he said, and – when there are problems – follow up with about 1,500 consultations per year. Most problems are fixed by the time the follow up inspections are done.

Wants to reopen

A sign on the door of Unique Wok reads "Closed until further notice. Sorry for any inconvenience."

The owner has plans to reopen the restaurant. (Sally Pitt / CBC)

When reached by phone, Jun (Frank) told Unique Wok that CBC had been visiting China when the restaurant was closed. He said he cut his short trip when he was notified and came back on P.E.I. Tuesday.

Liu said he was aware that one of his wosks was broken, but not the other problems identified by health officials. He said he planned to meet environmental health officials soon and review the violations.

He told CBC News he plans to fix all the problems and hopes to reopen soon.

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