Flame Broiler takes action in response to student complaint


Mari Woodmansee/The Runner

Outside the Flame Broiler located in the shopping mall at the corner of Coffee and Stockdale, Satuday, November 9, 2019.

Sam Underwood, Editor-in-Chief

  A student from CSU Bakersfield filed a complaint to the Kern County Public Health Department on October 8, 2019, when she found three small, white, wormlike bugs in her food from the Flame Broiler restaurant located on the corner of Coffee Road and Stockdale Highway.  

  “I had gotten out of class and really needed food, and I always go to Flame Broiler because it’s so fast and supposedly heathy,” said Zeltzin Estrada-Rodriguez, a double major in English and psychology at CSUB.   

  Estrada-Rodriguez had ordered a mediumsized chicken bowl with rice and vegetables.   

  “I was eating in my car, doing homework, and I thought I saw something and put it aside thinking that it was a weirdly cooked piece of broccoli,” Estrada-Rodriguez said.   

  According to Estrada-Rodriguez, after about ten bites she found more of the bugs she thought to be maggots in her food.   

  She contacted the health department and the restaurant to make them aware of what she had found.   

  After feeling ill, Estrada-Rodriguez sought medical attention a few days later at Proximity Urgent Care where, according to her, she was diagnosed with food poisoning.   

  Michelle Corson, a public relations representative from the KCHD, reported that there was an investigation into this incident at Flame Broiler. Flame Broiler was found to be using an approved source for their produce. Investigators from the health department concluded that the bugs were actually a type of broccoli worm, a common insect found in broccoli after harvest.   

  The Food and Drug Administration guidelines for acceptable food defect levels, which include insect infestation, states that broccoli can have an average of 60 or more aphids, thrips, or mites per 100 grams.  The FDA guidelines also state that contamination of this sort presents a purely aesthetic problem with no potential for health hazard.  Attempts to contact the FDA newsroom to clarify the information regarding the acceptable defect level, and its application to broccoli worms specifically, were unanswered.   

  Flame Broiler was purchasing triple washed, pre-cut broccoli from Pacific International Marketing via US Foods 

  “This kind of thing should never have happened in the first place,” stated Andrew Kim, the franchise owner of the Stockdale Flame Broiler.  Kim owns six of the seven Flame Broiler locations in Bakersfield.   

  “We buy pre-washed broccoli and then wash it again when it gets to our restaurant,” stated Kim.  “But that is what happens when working with produce from the field.  [The process] is not 100% foolproof.  It’s unfortunate that this happens from time to time, but it’s just the product that we work with,” said Kim.   

  In response to the incident, Flame Broiler reported to the health department that they had discarded all the broccoli they had in stock.  In addition, the restaurant has changed the source of their broccoli from Pacific to Hong Kong Foods based in California.  They have also stopped buying pre-washed broccoli and have implemented an improved washing method in the restaurants.   

  “The Flame Broiler has really gone above and beyond.  They have exceeded the health departments expectations,” said Corson.   

  Prior to this incident, Flame Broiler has had two inspections by KCHD, where they received 100% on May 30, 2019, and again on Sept. 6, 2019.  The first inspection this year, on Jan. 2, 2019, they received a 97% for “a gross buildup of grease on an exhaust hood,” according to the inspection report.   

  In an effort to better inform consumers, last year the health department implemented a mobile app called Safe Diner, as well as an interactive map on their website.  Both the app and the website allow users to look up inspection reports on food services locations all around Kern County.  The app allows users to upload photos of any concerns that users may see at a food services location and make a report.  The photos and reports are sent directly to the environmental health team at KCHD.