KINGMAN - In a sweeping move, the Mohave County Department of Public Health has ordered no fewer than 10 local economy hotels to cease serving food and beverages for lack of a food service permit.
According to the county's environmental health manager, Rachel Patterson, the notices of violation were mailed out last week after a county health inspector performing a routine investigation noticed one of the hotels was serving a continental breakfast without the required permit.
"When she was talking with the owner about this, they stated many other hotels did the same thing," Patterson said. "We instructed our inspectors to check other hotels in the area for service of continental breakfast or beverages without a permit."
Ten hotels in all were found to be serving food or drinks without a permit. Of these, nearly all are along East Andy Devine Ave., with the lone exception the Motel 6 at 424 W. Beale St. The offending hotels include both of Kingman's Days Inns, the Travelodge, Super 8, Econo Lodge, Silver Queen, Rodeway Inn and the Best Value Inn.
According to Patterson, each of these hotels was issued a one-time $363 fee for failure to comply with the state code, which they will need to pay prior to applying for a food service permit. Without a permit, none of the hotels can serve even coffee to their guests, since the Arizona Food Code considers coffee a food.
Until each of the hotels does secure a permit, they have only three options. The first is to serve only pre-packaged foods that do not require refrigeration, which includes whole fruit. Patterson said this has been the most popular choice among the hotels since the violation notices were issued, adding that the hotels can continue to serve coffee provided they obtain it from another establishment with the proper permit.
The second option would be to have continental breakfasts entirely catered by another hotel or restaurant with a permit. Their only other option, Patterson said, would be to confine all their food to a 10-foot-wide display area, again requiring it to be pre-packaged and without the need for refrigeration.
Patterson said the hotels that wish to obtain a food service permit must first provide commercial refrigeration, a hand-washing sink, a dishwashing sink and a janitorial sink. Once those are in place, she said, each hotel can submit its food service plans to Environmental Health and apply for one of three classifications. Patterson said most of the hotels are likely to pursue a Type I classification, which allows for beverage service as well as "limited preparation of potentially hazardous foods" that come pre-packaged by an approved food processing facility. In addition to a $451 one-time plan review fee, each hotel that applies for a Type I permit must pay $471 annually to maintain it. Additionally, anyone working in food handling or preparation will be required to attend one of the county's weekly food-handler classes.
Patterson was hesitant to put a timeframe on how long it might take for each of the 10 hotels to comply, though she did note her department was "receiving good cooperation" from them.
"Much of the timeline will depend on how quickly the hotels submit a plan review application and plans to our office," she said. "Once we receive plans, we usually try to get the plan review completed within a week of submittal."
As of Wednesday morning, however, Patterson said she had not received any such applications. Once any plans are approved, she said, it will fall to the individual hotels to complete any necessary construction, and then call the department to schedule an opening inspection.
While the scale of the investigation may be surprising, Patterson noted that its scope is hardly unusual. "It is important to note that this type of situation pops up in Mohave County from time to time. It is part of our normal, daily operations," she said. "This situation is only different in that it is 10 establishments at once."
But while Patterson said the whole reason for the permits is to ensure the health and safety of tourists and other hotel patrons, managers of the affected hotels see it as a cynical money grab at a time when occupancy rates are already well below where they were prior to the recession.
Deepen Patel is the manager of the Days Inn West at 3023 E. Andy Devine Ave. He said the notice of violation came as a complete surprise, and while he has been able to continue feeding his guests with individually packaged bagels, muffins and bear claws, he anticipated it would take well over a month and nearly $1,000 in fees just to serve site-prepared coffee again.
"We have to go all the way to one of our sister properties to make our coffee and bring it back," Patel said. "We had to take out some of our things that guests really like, like our hard-boiled eggs. It's definitely an inconvenience, and I think the (county's) just trying to come up with a way of making money, which is just ridiculous."
Elsewhere, a desk clerk at the America's Best Value Inn at 3100 E. Andy Devine who preferred not to be identified said his hotel was resorting to some of the pre-packaged foods it has always used, though the hotel was going to do everything it could to get its permit and restore breakfast items such as toast and cereal.
"We're going to try and get the rest of our breakfast in compliance and everything so we can start doing the full breakfast like we were doing," the clerk said.