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8News Investigates: How Safe is Food at the Richmond International Airport?

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Before you take a bite, think about how safe the food is at the restaurant you're visiting. Before you take a bite, think about how safe the food is at the restaurant you're visiting.
RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) -

The summer travel season is well underway and many people in our area will be grabbing a bite at the airport before boarding flights out of town. But how safe is the food that they're ordering? What has been revealed during an 8News investigation may have you deciding to go hungry.

According to our investigation, food safety at the Richmond International Airport is spotty. About 70 percent of the restaurants there had critical violations during their last inspections.

With busy travel schedules and fewer airlines serving food on planes, travelers may be forced to buy a bite at the airport. But eat at your own risk.

Of the 7 restaurants at Richmond International Airport, 5 of them were slammed with critical violations during their most recent food inspections.

All of those violations stemmed from not storing food at the proper temperature.

Two of the airport's three Caribou Coffee shops (Atrium and Caribou B) were cited just last month for yogurt stored at elevated temperatures: 44 and 52 degrees.

Applebee's had problems keeping dairy cool, too: we found violations for jack cheese at 48 degrees.

Director of Food and Environmental Health Services with the Virginia Department of Health Julie Henderson explains why it's so crucial to keep these types of foods at a chilly temperature:

"When you hold them above 41 degrees bacteria can grow."

Henderson says the Virginia Department of Health conducts annual inspections of the restaurants at the airport. She told 8New Investigative Reporter Kerri O'Brien that not storing food at the proper temperature is considered a critical violation,  since it can significantly increase the risk of a food-borne illness.

According to the CDC, 3,000 Americans die of a food-borne illness every year.  

"If there is a enough bacteria in it and allowed to grow, then yes it could make someone sick," Henderson told us.

Perhaps what is most nauseating: at the airport, we discovered some repeat offenders.

Club Level Grill was hit with two critical violations in May: blue cheese, soup and steak all stored at elevated temperatures. 

And just a few months earlier, this same restaurant was cited for similar issues: eggs at 50 degrees and Thai noodles at a steamy 65 degrees.

At Vito's Market, in January health inspectors found ham stored at 54 degrees. Vito's was slammed for deli meat problems the year before, as well, specifically, turkey and ham not refrigerated properly.

Henderson says that by law, the Health Department can't fine a restaurant, but if corrective action isn't taken during the inspection, inspectors will revisit the restaurant in 10 days. Persist ant problems can lead to a hearing or a permit suspension.

"We hopefully get them to correct it on site..so if it is a temperature violation, we want them to fix it right then by discarding."

Delaware North Companies, which manages all the restaurants at Richmond International Airport, declined to go on camera with us but issued a statement telling 8News, in part, 

"Food safety is a top priority and we have made corrections to the requests made by the Virginia Department of Health, including removing a faulty cooler."

We should note: inspectors did give one chain at RIC Airport a clean bill of health: Cheeburger Cheeburger, with zero violations.

For more information on the Richmond International Airport restaurants' food safety inspections, please visit the Virginia Department of Health's website here. 

Copyright 2014 by Young Broadcasting of Richmond

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