Public reports help LCPH monitor establishments and identify problems

Posted at 3:55 PM, Sep 21, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-22 12:50:16-04

HELENA — If you see something, say something—that saying holds true when it comes to conditions in food establishments. Information from the public helped identify and correct a recent rodent infestation at a Helena restaurant.

According to county health department documents, Nagoya restaurant in Helena was cleared to reopen by Lewis and Clark Public Health last month after an about two-week closure due to a rodent infestation.

“In this case, we received a couple of complaints, so our inspector went to the facility to see what was gong on,” LCPH licensed establishment supervisor Nina Heinzinger said.

LCPH’s first visit to Nagoya this year was on April 5, for the restaurant’s annual inspection. The inspection report recorded a handful of violations, but none were noted as severe, and no mention of rodents.

By the time the health department returned on Aug. 2 to investigate complaints, the situation had changed.

According to the report from the Aug. 2 visit, the health inspector observed a rodent infestation characterized as “severe and one that occurred over some period of time.” Photos from the visit show rodent activity, droppings and carcasses on traps near food.


Tom Cai, the owner of Nagoya, said he is in the restaurant and kitchen every day and had never seen any rodents or evidence of them prior to August.

“The only day we saw that is I think August the first,” Cai said. “We have the mice trap in the kitchen, we found a couple.”

Heinzinger noted it is not unusual for restaurants to have rodent traps as a precautionary preventative measure.

Due to the infestation at Nagoya, the restaurant was ordered to close on Aug. 2. A notice of violation and order to take corrective action said the infestation constituted an “imminent health hazard.”

Mice found

Heinzinger said reports from the public were key in identifying this infestation.

“We’re in there one time every year for a couple hours, and the public is in there many hours,” she said. “They let us know, and it’s important.”

Including Heinzinger, LCPH has four inspectors for about 500 food establishments across the county. They also inspect pools, spas, trailer courts, campgrounds and public accommodations. Inspectors go into each of these facilities once a year for an unannounced annual inspection.
“It’s very busy,” Heinzinger said. “Our inspectors are busy throughout the year.”

Reports from the public not only help LCPH, they also help restaurants stay clean.

“That’s most important things to us too,” Cai said. “I feel embarrassed—I don’t know how (the rodents) got in—but for sure we’re going to make sure everything is clean.”


Nagoya cleaned, threw away food and contracted with a pest control company that Cai said visits the restaurant once every two weeks.

On Aug. 16, LCPH returned to Nagoya and gave the restaurant the green light to re-open.

“We’ve gone back in and said ‘yes, you’ve addressed the problem,’” Heinzinger said.

The public can report concerns about a restaurant, or any of the establishments LCPH inspects, to LCPH—contact information is available on their website.