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RED ALERT: What's worse, roaches or roach poison in your food?

5:08 PM, Jul 11, 2013   |    comments
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YBOR CITY, Florida -- It's been called one of Ybor City's best kept secrets. El Puerto Restaurant and Grill is known for a mix of Argentinean beef and Peruvian seafood.

"We work with a lot of fresh ingredients. All the meats are fresh, the fish is fresh," said owner Yanko Maceda.

But there are other, less appetizing secrets customers may not know about. The restaurant was shut down as an emergency closure June 25th after a state inspector documented 26 violations, six considered high priority. Among the issues were seafood left out thawing at room temperature; food not properly date marked; roach activity with 30 to 40 live roaches found on food shelves; live flies; a broken window in the kitchen; and a torn screen door with vermin present.

"That's pretty nasty," said Ybor City visitor Jamie Higgins.

But perhaps the biggest concern was the presence of toxic substances, including consumer insecticides in close proximity to the food.

"I think that's the most disgusting thing I've ever heard of," said Higgins, who once worked in a restaurant herself.

In fact, the state inspector found a banned "tracking powder" insecticide inside the kitchen according to state records.

"What happens to the powder that was on the floor? It ends up on the cockroaches feet, and where does the roach go? Into the food," said local food safety expert David Steck. "Having pesticides in the food service establishment is not only prohibited but just a bad idea. That stuff enters the food chain it's going to make someone real, real sick."

Toxic items and other issues were repeat violations previously written up by the state. We caught up with El Puerto owner Yanko Maceda.

"We know now better for the future. When they say you need to change this, let's get it done real quick because unfortunately, [the inspector] wasn't playing this time. She closed the place," said Maceda, who promises the restaurant's issues are now corrected.

"The shelf that was holding the onions and potatoes was really close to the chemicals. We got new shelving and a new company that comes in and does all the insecticide. We're not doing it ourselves no more, that way we can avoid that issue."

But when we asked for permission to take a look in the kitchen, the owner told us the chef would not allow us inside. Instead, we took a peek through a kitchen window where we could see the cooking area still swarming with flies around a pile of sliced fish.

"That's an enormous risk because they flies are transferring pathogens from their feet onto the food," said Steck.

You can take a look at El Puerto's full inspection history here.

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