Circle K stores in Orange County have been ordered by a Superior Court judge to follow state health code rules for food storage and handling pending trial of a suit seeking $400,000 in fines for alleged code violations.
The order, issued Monday, enables the district attorney’s consumer protection unit to seek contempt of court penalties for any new health code violations discovered by county health agency inspectors, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Wendy Brough.
The district attorney’s office sued Circle K claiming that county health inspectors have found more than 700 health code violations at various Circle K stores in the county since 1986.
Those violations include failure to clean up rodent droppings, failure to maintain clean premises, failure to provide hot water and soap in employee restrooms and storage of hot dogs and other food items in areas where harmful bacteria could grow because of improper temperature control.
Circle K attorneys have called the suit groundless and argued in a hearing Monday morning that it would serve no purpose to issue a formal injunction because the chain already obeys state laws. But their arguments failed to sway Superior Court Judge William F. Rylaarsdam, who issued the preliminary order sought by the district attorney.
That order says that Circle K stores must adhere to all state Health and Safety Code provisions regarding the storage, handling and preparation of food and must keep logs and records of the steps taken to identify and correct problems that exist at individual stores.
Circle K corporate attorney Janet Jackim said Tuesday that the chain has cleared up some of the violations cited in the suit and believes that other citations “don’t show any evidence of a continuing violation. . . . One store was cited for a backup of raw sewage, but we were not responsible for that, we didn’t cause it and we closed the store and cleaned it up as soon as we became aware of it,” she said. She acknowledged problems with some stores in Orange County but denied that the problems are as pervasive and persistent as claimed in the suit, which was filed Aug. 2 and amended Sept. 16 to update the allegations.
She said that the chain, which has headquarters in Phoenix, maintains strict standards for cleanliness and has moved rapidly to correct problems identified by the county health agency.
Court Commissioner Eleanor Palk is scheduled to hear Circle K’s arguments this morning for dismissal of the district attorney’s suit.
Brough said Tuesday that if the suit progresses it will take from six months to a year for it to come to trial.
Circle K operates 4,585 stores in 32 states, plus 800 stores in six foreign countries.