Restaurant earns a 13 on report
Lowest health score in Gwinnett history

LILBURN - A Mexican restaurant in Lilburn closed Tuesday after earning the lowest inspection score in the county's history.

Mar y Tierra (Sea and Land) Family Mexican Restaurant, formerly Las Chellas, at 521 Indian Trail-Lilburn Road was closed by the Gwinnett County Health Department after scoring 13 out of a possible 100 points following an inspection.

The score broke the previous record of 17, which was given about five years ago, said Vernon Goins, spokesman for the East Metro Health District.

The owners had applied for a name change, which required an inspection, said Goins.

Inspectors recorded numerous code violations, including keeping ready-to-eat foods longer than seven days after preparation, holding hot and cold foods at temperatures that would encourage rapid spoiling or bacteria growth, oysters stored in undrained ice, an employee working with food while wearing fingernail polish or artificial fingernails without gloves in good repair, non-compliance with the Georgia Smoke Free Air Act, cooler not maintained at 48 degrees, mold growing in the freezer, lights not shielded in the walk-in cooler and an employee wearing jewelry other than a plain ring while preparing food. Jewelry could pierce the protective glove, Goins said.

Other violations listed are procedural issues, Goins said. The report lists not having provided a consumer advisory regarding the consumption of raw or undercooked food (the restaurant serves ceviche), the vegetable sink used for purposes other than washing fruits and vegetables and an ineffective barrier for the exterior door, among others.

The restaurant opened Dec. 1, 2005 as Las Chellas, a Mexican slang word for beer, the manager, Emilio Lopez, said.

"They had been doing pretty well as Las Chellas," Goins said, adding it scored 95, 93, 75, 95 and 77 since opening.

Owners applied for a name change in November 2007. They had reworked the restaurant's menu and image to appeal to families and all nationalities, Lopez said.

The inspection was conducted under new, more stringent guidelines adopted Dec. 1, 2007, that are in line with FDA regulations, Goins said.

"They are certainly not alone," Goins said of Mar y Tierra. "We will see this until at least the full cycle of inspections under the new codes. We are the 34th state to adopt those guidelines."

Workers are readying the restaurant for a second inspection on Friday, Lopez said. If the restaurant passes inspection, it will reopen.

"We are correcting everything," he said. "My restaurant is very clean, especially compared with others."

The complete report is online at www.gwinnett.ga.gegov.com/gwinnett/. The food service scores get about 1,000 hits per day, Goins said.