On Wednesday, Frank Bonanno of Bonanno Concepts published a blog titled, "Yes, Danica, I'm Mean," to introduce a teaser for one of his upcoming projects involving meat cured in his basement, and to vent about his turbulent relationship with lead health inspector Danica Lee. He also alludes to a recent incident that provoked him to move a curing cellar at Bones to his home: "I'll raise my glass to Danica Lee (here's to Danica!), who compelled me to up the contents of my personal home cellar and shift my practice (I have to practice, to be at the ready for the HACCP approval) from a too-small-office above Bones to a larger, more temperate room in my house. Legally."
On behalf of Lee, department communication director Meghan Hughes issued a statement in response to the blog, as well as information regarding recent investigations at Bonanno's restaurants: "While meeting with Mr. Bonanno and his attorney on the most recent charges in court last week, Danica Lee, Food Program Manager, asked Mr. Bonanno to be more cooperative with our investigators when they visit his facilities. There have been a number of instances where Frank and his staff have been challenging to work with. We’re responsible for protecting the patrons. It’s not personal, our investigators work hard to protect the health of the public by enforcing the same consistent standards in all food facilities."
In April, Mr. Bonanno was issued a summons for two charges at Osteria Marco. One was for failing to comply with an order Environmental Health issued to restrict bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods. This order was issued during the course of an epidemiologically confirmed illness investigation which made 23 employees and patrons at Osteria Marco ill. The viral illness that was traced back to his facility can be spread through poor hygienic practices and bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods.
The second charge was for unlawfully obtaining food from an unapproved source for use in a retail food establishment. This charge originated during the course of the illness investigation when an employee let us know that there was a meat curing/cheese production operation in a closet above one of Bonanno’s other restaurants. When our investigators confirmed the existence of this illegal operation, they disposed of all the food because it was made under conditions that were considered unsafe according to local, State, and Federal standards.
As far as fines, 14 fines have been assessed against his 6 separately inspected operations in the last fourteen months. Facilities get warnings and the opportunity to fix violations before they get fines. Fines are only assessed for repeat violations. Frank has appealed all of these fines except for the first one. Of these fines, only one instance has related to cured meats. All other instances have been for fines he petitioned that were assessed for other violations unrelated to meat curing that were documented during routine visits.
Regarding the HACCP Plan, a HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) plan describes the food process (in this case, curing of meats outside of refrigeration) and includes a high level of detail to identify where contamination is likely to occur and to ensure controls are in place to prevent illness.
Of the four HACCP plans Mr. Bonanno submitted, he admits that two were copied from other restaurants; one of them did not make any mention of curing whatsoever, and the second briefly referred to curing but provided no details on the process. None of the HACCP plans that have been submitted to date have included all the components that are required by State and Federal law in a HACCP plan.
Neither the city nor state regulations currently address curing outside of refrigerated temperatures because there hasn’t been a need in the past. Regulations are designed to protect health and safety and curing presents a high food safety risk. This why it’s important to ensure it’s being done safely.
There are serious health risks if curing is not completed properly, including nitrite poisoning, E. coli, botulism, and Listeriosis, all of which can be life-threatening or fatal, especially to highly susceptible populations like children and the elderly.
DEH is committed to working with facilities that wish to engage in specialized food processes that are not addressed in regulation. Over the last few years, DEH has worked with the State Health Department and FDA numerous times on specialized processes, including curing outside of refrigeration. This week DEH staff again met with the USDA, FDA, and the State Health Department to obtain further information; at this meeting, DEH received definitive guidance on requirements that must be met for facilities which wish to engage in these specialized processes.