Jon Austria — The Daily TimesGolden Corral is seen on Monday in Farmington
Jon Austria — The Daily Times Golden Corral is seen on Monday in Farmington

FARMINGTON — The New Mexico Environment Department is investigating Golden Corral's restaurant in Farmington after receiving a complaint in July about a rodent infestation.

According to documents obtained through the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act, an electrical contractor told investigators on July 21 that he was installing data cables at Golden Corral, 1715 E. Main St., when he discovered two-and-a-half inches of rat feces caked on to a ceiling tile. He said the tile was in the restaurant's food preparation area and he also saw mouse droppings on the kitchen floor.

An inspector investigated the restaurant on July 22. He noted in his report that he inspected two areas in the kitchen and found evidence of rodent activity in one of the areas. It could not be determined whether the activity was recent, the report states.

He recommended that the restaurant seal and caulk all outside openings, replace tile coverings, and upgrade the grease storage area.

"This will also go a long way in eliminating any rodent harborage," the inspector wrote.

Inspectors have noted for several years that the restaurant's back door needed to be properly sealed, according to inspection records.

The restaurant contacted a pest control company, he said in the report, which placed several rodent traps in the ceiling and around the perimeter of the building.

A follow-up inspection was expected to take place Friday, but an official with the department could not provide information Monday on whether the restaurant followed the recommendations.

Golden Corral said in a written statement that the Farmington restaurant passed the inspection on July 22 with no violations.

"Minor issues raised in the inspection were promptly handled," the statement reads. "We are committed to maintaining the highest standards in our restaurants for our guests and employees."

The Daily Times requested restaurant inspection records for Golden Corral in Farmington from 2009 to 2014.

Since October 2008, inspectors have reported 27 "high-risk violations" and 14 "moderate-risk violations," including standing water in the kitchen area, wiping clothes not properly sanitized, and general uncleanliness.

The Environment Department has investigated five complaints at the restaurant in the past five years.

In October 2008, an inspector reported one high-risk violation after finding food kept at unsafe temperatures, including a rotisserie chicken kept at 96 degrees Fahrenheit and clam strips kept at 121 degrees Fahrenheit. The food was thrown away by the inspector.

Steve Zappe, food program manager for New Mexico's Environment Department, said the risk factor guidelines are based on the Center for Disease Control's food safety policy.

"The high-risk ones are the most likely to turn into food-borne illnesses," he said. "Those kind of activities, if there are enough of them or repeated violations, then it can lead to a restaurant closure or ratings downgrade."

On March 25, inspectors reported four high-risk violations at the restaurant, one moderate-risk violation and three low-risk violations. The inspector noted in the report that the restaurant's rear exit door, which leads to the trash area, had gaps and was not a tight fit.

Investigators noted the same problem, a moderate-risk violation, in January 2011, April 2010 and April 2009. Inspectors do not indicate in follow-up investigations whether the problem was corrected.

According to the report, the restaurant fixed the high-risk violations reported in March, which included a hand wash sink that lacked hot water, an ice machine that needed to be cleaned and sanitized, and a broken drain on a food steamer.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and stgarrison@daily-times.com. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGarrisonDT on Twitter.