Warning: This story contains a social media post that features graphic language
SPOKANE, Wash. – Health inspectors have not suspended a North Spokane sushi's restaurant food permit following viral videos that show improper food handling in the restaurant's kitchen.
The owner of QQ Sushi, Bao Zhang, issued a statement regarding the incident Wednesday afternoon. He said the restaurant will reopen next week and he's replacing the entire kitchen staff and management because of the videos.
The Spokane Regional Health District received several complaints over the videos posted on social media.
A person posted video on Sunday that they said was shot inside QQ Sushi on West Francis Avenue. The video shows someone preparing food in a large mixing bowl on the floor, then storing it under a shelf. The person who shot the video said it was a bowl of raw chicken and eggs, and it was not being chilled.
Another photo allegedly showed tuna that had been rinsed out and was being stored in a dish bucket. The person also posted video of fish chopped up and being stored in a sink near produce.
"I was deeply disturbed by what I saw on those video," Zhang said in a statement. "That does not accurately portray men and how I run my business. I have owned QQ Sushi for more than five years. We have thousands of good reviews online averaging 4 out of 5 stars and often have a line of people out the door. Our customers are like family to me, so I hope people know I'm taking this seriously and want to get back to serving the community with delicious food as I have for the past five years."
Zhang called the incident a learning experience for everyone and said he will make sure that his employees have a solid understanding of safe food handling practices going forward.
"I sincerely apologize for the distress this has caused our customers and the Spokane community. I usuually go to great lengths to ensure that we are serving the best quality food, made with the best ingredients in a safe environment. What we all witnessed is not acceptable and we are doing everything we can to make sure this never happens again," he said in the statement.
KREM's Amanda Roley, who was at QQ Sushi on Tuesday, said multiple people showed up to eat at the restaurant before leaving due to its closure. She added that Spokane Regional Health District leaders said an inspection must be done after a complaint is made but the owner of QQ Sushi has already taken steps to address food safety concerns at the restaurant.
Kelly Hawkins, a spokesperson for SRHD, said on Wednesday that the restaurant voluntarily closed rather than the health district mandating its closure. Inspectors visited the restaurant on Tuesday to address complaints but did not tell them to close.
Health inspectors were unable to observe food handling procedures first-hand because the owner had closed prior to their visit, Hawkins said. They did conduct educational training on proper food handling procedures with their employees and management, and saw work they had done to resolve the complaints.
"There was no sign of improper food storage while our inspectors were there. Therefore, we did not suspend their food permit," Hawkins said.
Health inspectors will observe their food handling procedures first-hand when the restaurant reopens, Hawkins said.
Two employees fired, diners arrive at closed restaurant on Tuesday
Zhang told KREM on Tuesday two QQ Sushi employees were fired following the release of the videos.
Zhang told Roley that he has worked in the restaurant business for 30 years and considers his employees family. He did not elaborate on why he fired the employees.
Ashley Mclean, one of the people who wanted to eat at QQ Sushi, said she hadn't seen the videos yet.
"I always thought their food was good. I never saw anything strange," Mclean said.
She also said she would probably go back to the restaurant after it reopened but that she would likely watch the videos.
Roley also reached out to Zhang's lawyer on Tuesday, who did not provide comment.
QQ Sushi posted on Facebook that they would be closed Monday before reopening on Tuesday. The post has since been deleted.
History of violations at QQ Sushi
According to Spokane Regional Health District food establishment inspections, QQ Sushi has a history of health violations.
During an inspection on Jan. 17, 2018, the restaurant’s food worker cards were not current, there were no adequate hand washing facilities, raw meats were not stored below or away from ready-to-eat food and cold holding temperatures weren’t up to par. The restaurant had similar food storage violations on Aug. 21, 2018, Jan. 16, 2019, Feb. 14, 2019 and March 25, 2019.
Zhang said on Tuesday that he would fix problems whenever health district officials found them in the past.