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Jim Davis, Editor
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Published: Thursday, January 27, 2011

Health district awards cleanest eateries in county

EVERETT — Among the 3,300 or so different places where you can eat a prepared meal in Snohomish County, only a couple of dozen each year are good enough to earn a nomination for the Snohomish Health District's annual Excellence Award.

The Red Robin restaurant in Smokey Point has been declared the cleanest full-menu restaurant in Snohomish County for 2010.

Last year, the restaurant was nominated in the peer-judged competition of restaurants in Snohomish County, placing it in the top one percent of the county's cleanest, best-run eateries.

Mitch Billmeyer, Smokey Point Red Robin assistant general manager, said everyone on the restaurant staff is really excited about the award.

“We're happy,” Billmeyer said. “To be number one is one of the best rewards there is.”

The health district created the Excellence Awards program in 1989 as a positive reinforcement of its restaurant and food service inspection program. The public health agency's 10 food facility inspectors work with more than 3,300 food service establishments in the county — from espresso stands and taco wagons to sit-down restaurants with complex menus. It also monitors food preparation at 25 local fairs and festivals in the summer months. Each operation must meet strict health standards for sanitation to maintain its permit.

Health district food safety field inspectors submit nominees for the best-run establishments, based on the eateries each inspector reviews each year, said Rick Zahalka, program manager for the district's Food and Living Environment section.

From there, the inspectors' nomination reports go to a 24-member food advisory panel of industry peers for blind judging, Zahalka said. The panel includes restaurant owners, operators and chefs.

Twenty-five establishments were nominated for 2010, he said. Not every inspector submits a nominee for each of the six categories, so the nominee count has varied from 22 to 28 annually over the years. The 2010 Excellence Award winners are:

• Full-menu establishment: Red Robin; Darla Rosebrook, manager; 16814 Twin Lakes Ave., Marysville.

• Fast service establishment: Panda Express No. 1516; Elida Gomez, manager; 1402 SE Everett Mall Way No. 670, Everett.

• Limited-menu establishment: Edible Arrangements; Heidi McBain, owner and manager; 15021 Main St. Suite D, Mill Creek.

• Grocery store: QFC No. 879; Steve Meissner, manager; 27008 92nd Ave. NW, Stanwood.

• School-industry-institution: Port Susan Middle School; Shirley Lanum, district kitchen manager; 7506 267th Place NW, Stanwood.

• Temporary food establishment: Landa's Grill; Angie Hjert, owner and manager; 10728 227th Ave. SE, Monroe.

The county's health officer and health board will present Excellence Award plaques to the winners in a ceremony at 3 p.m. Feb. 8, in the Snohomish Health District auditorium, 3020 Rucker Ave., Everett. The meeting is free and open to the public.

“Every food establishment operator has had to make tough decisions about where to invest scarce resources in their business during this recession,” he said. “Making absolutely sure the food is safe is always the right decision and pays dividends in the long run. These awards are earned.”

As the Smokey Point Red Robin nomination proves, there is some carryover from year to year, Zahalka said.

But is there an award for the worst restaurants?

“Yes,” he said. “It's called closure.”

However, he quickly added, that's not the first step inspectors take when they find problems. Enforcement of food handling laws is progressive, “and usually people want to do what's right.”

The most common violations involve personal hygiene and hand-washing, cooking foods to proper temperatures, keeping foods at the proper temperature, and properly cooling food to prevent bacteria growth, Zahalka said.

To view inspections on any county restaurant, go to www.snohd.org.

Kurt Batdorf: 425-339-3102; kbatdorf@scbj.com.