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Records Trace The History Of Complaints At East Peoria Popeye's

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Photo obtained via FOIA
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Complaints of grease buildup and insect issues prompted local health officials to take a closer look at the East Peoria Popeye's location.

What they found was a potential state and federal environmental violation.

Records obtained from the Tazewell County Health Department via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests show how health violations were documented and addressed on three separate occasions this year.

The health department shut down the restaurant, 103 N. Main, on Sept. 13.

After an initial complaint was received, the city of East Peoria also notified the health department grease was flowing into a storm sewer.

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Photo obtained via FOIA request

Photo evidence showed grease was flowing down the back walk and towards the storm sewer. Health inspectors found black, grease-soaked mulch in the landscaping, and flies in the area.

This was not the first time the grease trap at the restaurant malfunctioned. In April, Tazewell County health inspectors also registered a complaint of grease "ozzing (sic) out the back door and running up the drive by the drive-thru window."

A health inspector said a manager told them the grease trap had previously clogged. But there was still grease visible outside. The district manager told the health inspector they were hiring someone to clean up the outdoor area.

The September closure notice also refers back to a June 15 incident, when a health inspector found a three-compartment sink and back prep sink completely clogged, with wastewater pooling in the back while food preparation and service continued.

The inspector ordered the restaurant closed until the drains were unclogged later in the day. The inspector noted rice may have clogged the drains.

The health department also responded to a complaint after a hood cleaning company posted on social media about conditions seen in the restaurant. The district manager told an inspector he was aware of the issue, and the equipment in question was taken apart for cleaning and servicing.

The issues weren't present when the inspector followed up on the post, but it was noted the restaurant had a fly issue and a pest control specialist was needed to handle the problem and assess for any breeding problems.

When the city of East Peoria did an onsite inspection on Sept. 13, they found the drain in the kitchen across from the fryers completely plugged.

The restaurant was shut down until an environmental service company replaced the ground covering around the exterior grease trap, installed new mulch, verified the grease trap was working properly, and provided service invoices dating back to December 2018. The storm sewer and municipal sewer lines also had to be cleared of any grease blockage.

That work was completed on Sept. 20. In the future, the health department is also requiring the restaurant to provide invoice records for grease trap repairs upon complaint or health department request.

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Photo obtained via FOIA request

Tazewell County Health Department spokesperson Sara Sparkman said the storm sewer issue was particularly significant, as it could have led to a contamination of state or federal waterways. Photo evidence taken by East Peoria city workers on Sept. 13 didn't note an outflow of grease into the levee from the storm sewer.

The city of East Peoria was in communication with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency for an investigation into that issue, she said.

The IEPA did not return a request for comment.

Texas-based Dhanani Group owns several Popeye's franchises in Central Illinois, including the East Peoria location. The company did not return a request for comment.

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