Fairfax County health code inspectors closed the Outback Steakhouse restaurant on Braddock Road in Fairfax on Aug. 8 because its walk-in refrigerator was not functioning properly, causing food to be stored at unsafe temperatures and leading to an infestation of fruit flies.
The restaurant was reopened the following day, after the refrigerator was fixed. The refridgerator had been malfunctioning for the previous three weeks, according to the inspection report.
"We had a situation with our walk-in, but everything's up and running now," said Keith Kirkland, a managing partner of the restaurant, which is located at 9579 Braddock Road. "We're good to go."
The health inspection was sparked by a complaint from a customer who suspected they caught a gastrointestinal illness from a dish served at the restaurant, said Kimberly Cordero, the Fairfax County Health Department's spokesperson.
Health inspectors did not establish that the customer's illness definitely came from food served at Outback.
"It's very difficult to link food-borne illness to any one establishment, due to the numerous variables involved — where, when, what a person eats and drinks in a three to five day time period," Cordero said.
The inspectors did find several critical and repeat violations, according to the inspection report.
One such repeat violation found during the seven-hour inspection was that potentially hazardous foods were being stored at temperatures well over what is considered safe. For example, raw swordfish was stored at 53 degrees and raw chicken was stored at 73 degrees, according to the report. These "cold-hold" foods must be kept below 41 degrees to be deemed safe.
Storing food at unsafe temperatures can allow bacteria to grow and thrive, putting customers at risk for food-borne illnesses.
Gastrointestinal illness has been on the rise in Northern Virginia, according to the Virginia Department of Health. In just the past three weeks, more than 50 documented cases have been reported in the region, caused by the salmonella bacteria.
So far this year, 151 documented cases of gastrointestinal illness caused by salmonella have occurred in Northern Virginia.
The most common symptoms of the illness include diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramping and vomiting.
The Fairfax County Health Department routinely visits the county's 3,000 restaurants twice a year for unannounced inspections, with additional inspections prompted by complaints.
To report health code violations, contact the Health Department at 703-246-2444.