millerparkfire

Health Department Must Approve Reopening of Friday’s Front Row – Does That Make You Feel Safe?

Following a kitchen fire earlier this week, Friday’s Front Row in Miller Park will reopen tomorrow on a limited basis.  Fans with tickets to Brewers home games in Friday’s seating areas will be able to experience “limited food service.”  There will be beverage service only (no food) at the restaurant bar.  Until further notice, Friday’s will not be open any other time besides Brewers games.

I’m sure whatever fans patronize Friday’s during the next few days will appreciate whatever limited food service is available.  I doubt many of those fans will be interested in whether or not the Milwaukee Health Department approved the limited food service.  And yet the Health Department had to give its blessing before Friday’s could reopen, at least according to this story on the fire from a few days ago (emphasis mine):

Now the cleanup at the restaurant is underway — and insurance companies have been contacted. It’s not clear when the restaurant will reopen. That’s in large part because some equipment may have to be replaced or wiring examined. Eventually, the Milwaukee Health Department must give its okay to reopen.

It’s seemingly a minor detail, but it’s one of those things that makes me wonder – when people go out to eat, do they bother to check if the restaurant is properly licensed?  Do they look up public records of Health Department inspections?  Is anyone going to Friday’s this weekend for limited food service going to ask to see a copy of the Health Department’s approval to reopen?  If Friday’s were to offer limited food service without Health Department approval, would any of us even notice?

I suppose most folks assume that if a restaurant is operational, it must have passed some kind of health inspection.  But does anybody know if the inspection is rigorous or evaluating the right criteria?  Milwaukee just made a pretty significant change to how it licenses the taxi industry because the city’s regulations were terribly out of date.  How do we know its food industry regulations are sound?  Licensing of restaurants may be just as arbitrary and ineffective as licensing of taxis was until yesterday.

The PDF of the City of Milwaukee Food Dealer Supplemental Application is here.  I would guess the most important part is the fee chart on the first page.  Other than that, it seems like busywork.  Applicants have to submit floor plans, pest management plans, equipment lists, and a list of all light fixtures in the establishment.  I suppose you could make an argument that lighting has some effect on the safety of my dining experience, but…well, it would have to be a pretty nuanced argument.

Later there’s a question “Will electronic scanning devices be used for pricing/check out?” followed by the note “A scanner license is required if using an electronic scanning device.”  Now that’s just silly.

For judicious customers, the inspection reports for Friday’s Front Row are here; there are eight dated between 2/13/2008 and 12/11/2012.  A quick review finds – A-HA! – Friday’s has had three violations during that time:

  1. There is a severe leak in the pipe underneath the 3 compartment sink on the right (south) side of the bar.  Properly repair plumbing.
  2. Single service towels unavailable at the handwashing sink by the front entrance of the bar.  Provide single service toweling for all handsinks.
  3. A few dead fruit flies found inside bottle of Kentucky Burbon.  Eliminate all evidence of pests and provide effective pest control.  Note: bottle was immediately discarded.

I feel sorry for the “Burbon” but at least the flies presumably died happy.  Other than that, the restaurant ran out of hand towels once and had a leak that probably would have been repaired anyway.  It doesn’t sound like the Health Department is exactly keeping the Mongol Hordes at bay.

Besides, it’s not as if these inspections are any guarantee of protection.  Food safety regulations didn’t prevent the 2012 salmonella outbreak that hit 19 states, including Wisconsin.  They didn’t stop the tragic 2000 Sizzler E. coli infection that killed a three-year-old girl.  The Health Department can’t stop occasional food poisonings, no matter how many inspections they conduct or how many light fixtures a restaurant has.

It’s good that the Friday’s fire hasn’t shut down the establishment entirely, although it looks like it might be some time before it’s fully operational again.  When it is, I doubt the Health Department’s approval will have any meaningful impact.

(Image: WKOW.com)

Enrique Bakemeyer

About Enrique Bakemeyer

Enrique is a writer and baseball enthusiast living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He has been contributing to The Brewers Bar since 2013, and has previously written for 411mania.com. Follow him on Twitter at @C_Enrique_B

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