Clover Shut Down Indefinitely

CEO Ayr Muir says that the Globe's story is 'irresponsible journalism'.

A Clover food truck. Photo via Flickr/T55Z

A Clover food truck. Photo via Flickr/T55Z

Twelve cases of salmonella were reported in June and many had one food place in common: Clover. On the heels of a city inspector shutting down the East Cambridge location last week, the Globe examined an inspection report from March in a story published Thursday, and it ain’t pretty.

The healthy restaurants and food trucks are popular amongst Boston’s vegetarians for their meat-free meals that are made with mostly locally grown, organic ingredients without using preservatives. They have brick and mortar restaurants and multiple food trucks. But the Globe reports that a city health inspector was not pleased during an inspection last week.:

When a city inspector went to the Clover restaurant in East Cambridge last Friday, she found hummus and various salads coming back from food trucks at improper temperatures, spoiled cauliflower in the refrigerator, and no one on hand to supervise the kitchen staff.

That inspection, sparked by an outbreak of food poisoning among some of Clover’s customers, led the city to shut the restaurant indefinitely, according to a report provided to the Globe. The chief executive then decided to close the other three restaurants and 10 food trucks in the popular Clover Food Lab chain, which all are supplied by the East Cambridge kitchen.

Clover CEO Ayr Muir says that customers had eaten one of two dishes containing pita bread which was purchased from a supplier, and tahini, hummus, and a cucumber tomato salad made by Clover chefs. Muir tells the Globe that when it comes to food safety practices “we could do a lot better,” but also says that, “I think we operate some of the cleanest kitchens in the country.”

Clover does not use freezers because all of the food is fresh. But, that can obviously have its disadvantages, too. During an inspection last year, it was noted that items like the cucumber tomato salad, a bean salad, and chickpeas were 14 degrees above the proper safe food storage temperature. The report also notes major infractions like a failure to provide handwashing facilities to employees in a food truck on Park Street off Boston Common. But Muir says that the inspector just caught them when the tank was empty.

“We had a water tank [attached to the truck’s sink] that was empty at the time that the inspector came,” Muir said. “To be totally honest, I don’t know if it had been left empty for hours or whether it had just run empty, but it was a pretty straightforward fix for us.”

Muir responded to the Globe’s story on the company’s website Thursday saying that the report is not entirely factual. And at this time there is still no evidence that the salmonella came from Clover.

“Clover restaurant’s lapses preceded outbreak.”

What should have been said is that Clover, like all operating restaurants, has items that were identified, by inspectors, in previous inspections that were dealt with in the past. These past “lapses” have nothing to do with our current shut-down. They have nothing to do with concern about the current MA Salmonella outbreak (which by the way could have had nothing to do with our food or our operating practices, we just don’t know yet, no samples have come back).

“She found spoiled cauliflower, hummus, and various salads coming back from food trucks at improper temperatures, and no one on hand to supervise the kitchen staff.”

Again, not factual. First, the “spoiled cauliflower” was an heirloom variety of cauliflower that came from a local organic farm. It wasn’t white, but it certainly wasn’t spoiled. And it wasn’t coming back from the trucks. It was in our walk-in fridge at the HUB. And it wasn’t prepared. Meaning it wasn’t ready to eat. As with all of our produce, it would have been inspected for spoilage before use.

Muir ends his note to the Globe by saying, “I have a suggestion for the Globe: what if we all try to use language and communication that helps people get closer to the truth, not further from the truth. That’s what we’re trying to do here. And I think that’s what good journalism is about, right?” See the full statement here.

We reached out to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health earlier this week and they responded with this statement:

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health is working cooperatively with the City of Cambridge and other municipalities to investigate and identify the source of a recent Salmonella outbreak. At this point, twelve cases have been confirmed. The investigation is ongoing.