NEW CASTLE —
About 15 years ago, China Banquet opened in New Castle.
The buffet-style Chinese restaurant at 102 S. Jefferson St. has enjoyed popularity and suffered tragedy. In addition to break-ins, last year the restaurant was hit twice by fire — Feb. 3 and Dec. 22. The second blaze resulted in the restaurant being closed for six months.
After re-opening May 15, the business seemed to be back on the path to success.
“We were packed,” manager Brent Lin said. “Our tables were filled. We were happy.”
But on May 28, police in Mahoning Township stopped and inspected a delivery truck carrying food from New Sheng Hung of Cleveland. The truck was bound for Chinese restaurants in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania.
Restaurants on the delivery list included China Banquet in New Castle, Golden Wok in Neshannock Township and Great Wall in Shenango Township.
Officers said the refrigeration unit of the truck was not working. Inspectors, who included representatives of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, said the truck’s cargo had thawed and thawing meat, improperly stored above dairy and vegetable products, had caused cross contamination, rendering the food unfit for human consumption.
Police confiscated about 2,000 pounds of spoiled food.
None was delivered to local restaurants, and no citations were issued by the agriculture department.
“That news just ruined our business,” Lin said. “And we never received any of that food.”
Lin said the restaurant receives the bulk of its food from a Pittsburgh company and from Sysco.
“We were expecting only side orders from that company, and containers,” he said. “This was the first time we ordered from them and they never showed up.”
Lin said China Banquet no longer deals with New Sheng Hung.
Food safety is of primary concern to the restaurant, he said, and every order is inspected upon arrival. Food temperatures and packaging are checked, he noted.
“We have returned things if it is not perfect.”
Lin, who has been at the restaurant since 2005, said it is owned by his aunt and uncle and employs family members.
Lin said he is at a loss to understand what happened to his customers.
“We were closed for six months,” he said. “We suffered through delays and a contractor who said it was too cold to work. But now we have a nice place and our customers came back until now.
“We care about our customers and hope they will all return.”
Annie Chen of Golden Wok, another business on the customer list, said her establishment receives no food from New Sheng Hung.
“Our food comes from Pittsburgh.”
Chen also said all deliveries are immediately inspected and are rejected if any problem is spotted.
“We know right away if the food is not right and we don’t take it,” she said. “Everything we order is safe. Everything is checked.”
Chen said she got calls from some regular customers after news of the truck was made known.
“I told them, we don’t get our food from them.”
Even so, Chen said, she has noticed a slight drop off in customers.
“We see this at this time of the year,” she noted. “Right after school is out we see fewer customers. People are out of town, they get busy in the summer.”
MaryAnne Gavrile, a Golden Wok patron picking up an order, said she has been a customer at the restaurant for years and will continue.
“I am confident about everything I get here.”
New Castle’s health inspector, Patrick McGuire, said this is not the first time faulty food delivery was discovered.
Ohio officials stopped a Cincinnati-based truck containing contaminated food — also bound for eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania restaurants — last August.
“This is not an unusual occurrence,” McGuire said. “This is why the state began Operation Code RED.”
McGuire said the department of agriculture, working with state police, inspects refrigerated trucks. The Refrigerated Enforcement Detail seeks trucks that have shut down refrigeration units.
As the price of fuel rises, this practice is expected to increase, McGuire said, explaining the fuel that powers the vehicle is also used to operate refrigeration units.
“They save fuel by not running the units,” he said. “This is a problem all over the country.”
NEW CASTLE —
About 15 years ago, China Banquet opened in New Castle.
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