Food safety ratings: Time to change system in Nebraska county?

Would you rather eat at a restaurant with food safety practices that are “fair” or “standard”? What makes a kitchen that’s “superior” better than a competitor that’s merely “excellent”?

barf.o.meter.dec.12Those are the four categories the Douglas County Health Department uses to rate restaurant food safety, and the ratings are the only information available online to the public about how restaurants perform in inspections.

Some members of the department’s Board of Health would like to replace that system with one that rates establishments with a letter grade — an A, B or C.

“It’s easily understood,” said Lawrence Albert, a food manufacturing industry consultant who is the health board’s vice president. He has raised the issue at board meetings but said it has not advanced past discussion.

The top county health official, however, doesn’t believe a change is needed to the current rating system.

“We know that our community feels pretty comfortable, and knows what it means” when they see “fair” or “standard,” said Dr. Adi Pour, county health director.

Some in the restaurant industry disagree.

“The public doesn’t understand how the grading

system works, and the media doesn’t understand how the grading system works, and that’s a problem,” said Jennie Warren, executive director of the Omaha Restaurant Association.

Warren said she’s glad the health department is evaluating its system and said the association will work with the department.

rest.inspection.grade.colorThis might help guide your work:

Filion, K. and Powell, D.A. 2009.

The use of restaurant inspection disclosure systems as a means of communicating food safety information.

Journal of Foodservice 20: 287-297.

The World Health Organization estimates that up to 30% of individuals in developed countries become ill from food or water each year. Up to 70% of these illnesses are estimated to be linked to food prepared at foodservice establishments. Consumer confidence in the safety of food prepared in restaurants is fragile, varying significantly from year to year, with many consumers attributing foodborne illness to foodservice. One of the key drivers of restaurant choice is consumer perception of the hygiene of a restaurant. Restaurant hygiene information is something consumers desire, and when available, may use to make dining decisions.

Filion, K. and Powell, D.A. 2011. Designing a national restaurant inspection disclosure system for New Zealand. Journal of Food Protection 74(11): 1869-1874
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The World Health Organization estimates that up to 30% of individuals in developed countries become ill from contaminated food or water each year, and up to 70% of these illnesses are estimated to be linked to food service facilities. The aim of restaurant inspections is to reduce foodborne outbreaks and enhance consumer confidence in food service. Inspection disclosure systems have been developed as qr.code.rest.inspection.gradetools for consumers and incentives for food service operators. Disclosure systems are common in developed countries but are inconsistently used, possibly because previous research has not determined the best format for disclosing inspection results. This study was conducted to develop a consistent, compelling, and trusted inspection disclosure system for New Zealand. Existing international and national disclosure systems were evaluated. Two cards, a letter grade (A, B, C, or F) and a gauge (speedometer style), were designed to represent a restaurant’s inspection result and were provided to 371 premises in six districts for 3 months. Operators (n = 269) and consumers (n = 991) were interviewed to determine which card design best communicated inspection results. Less than half of the consumers noticed cards before entering the premises; these data indicated that the letter attracted more initial attention (78%) than the gauge (45%). Fifty-eight percent (38) of the operators with the gauge preferred the letter; and 79% (47) of the operators with letter preferred the letter. Eighty-eight percent (133) of the consumers in gauge districts preferred the letter, and 72% (161) of those in letter districts preferring the letter. Based on these data, the letter method was recommended for a national disclosure system for New Zealand.

Pittsburgh restaurant operators express distaste for proposed grading system

Over a dozen local restaurant operators Tuesday evening convened in an Allegheny County Health Department public hearing, where they chewed and spat out an A-B-C grade system based on compliance with food safety procedures.

restaurant_food_crap_garbage_10If passed, Allegheny County residents will see letter grades posted on the doors of all public eating facilities by early September — including restaurants, church kitchens, schools, supermarkets, nursing homes and pool snack bars.

“We’re basically providing an easily interpretable mechanism by which the consumer can interpret our inspections,” said Jim Thompson, deputy director of environmental health.

Grading would be based on compliance with 33 categories of safety provisions that span from tossing expired food and washing used cutlery to providing separate changing facilities and toilets for employees. Any grade below an “A” will require a follow-up inspection of the establishment. Further reinspections may be requested once every calendar year for a fee of $150 at the owner’s expense. Imminent health hazards — such as roof leakage onto food or major cockroach infestations — will warrant the immediate closure of the eatery.

The grading system is a hot potato for Allegheny County restaurant owners, who successfully challenged a similar proposal in March 2011. “It feels a little bit like Groundhog Day,” quipped Kevin Joyce, owner of the Carlton, Downtown.

As in 2011, the central concern of local operators is an alleged misallocation of $3.4 million in federal funds to combat foodborne illnesses. “There are only 17 inspectors for over 9,000 facilities and no measures to ensure consistent grading across the board,” said Mehrdad Emamzadeh, a veteran of the hospitality industry.

Opponents of the program also noted that letter grades would constitute but a “snapshot in time,” unreasonably penalizing human error in a public fashion that would “virtually ruin reputations.” Mr. Emamzadeh, along with two restaurant owners, vowed not to open new establishments in the county if the grade plan were enacted.

Because not everyone goes to the health district office before choosing a restaurant: County in Ohio to put inspection reports online

The Lorain County General Health District will start putting restaurant inspection reports online beginning July 7, Health Commissioner Dave Covell announced Monday.

Reports dating to March 1 will be made available through the district’s website.

bataligradesCovell said new software provided by the state will make the online reports possible at no immediate cost to the county thanks to a grant funding the program.

The move comes at the same time that the health departments in Elyria and Lorain have run into computer problems that have caused them to stop putting up restaurant inspection reports.

Dave Oakes, environmental health director for the Elyria City Health District, said his agency’s reports had been available on the Web for the past four or five years before being taken down earlier this year because of compatibility issues.

He said it’s a problem the city Health Department hopes to have fixed by the fall. Oakes said the online inspection reports proved popular when they were available.

Kathy Boylan, who serves as health commissioner both in Elyria and for the Lorain City Health Department, said a separate computer issue has led to problems in Lorain.

In the meantime, Boylan said restaurant inspection reports remain public records and can be accessed at the health districts’ offices.

GMA investigates: how clean is your kitchen?

I said to myself, I gotta start sleeping in, adjust to Australia, but, like Al Pacino in Godfather III, “Every time I try to get out, they pull me back in.”

So I had Good Morning America on at 3:30 a.m. Brisbane time this morning from the Monday U.S. broadcast, and what do I see, but a story about restaurant inspection disclosure and grading.

qr.code.rest.inspection.gradeOK.

Rob Mancini, this is screaming for you.

Many cities across the country are adopting a letter-grade inspection system that requires restaurant operators to post publicly their health inspection grades for all to see.

But what about your own kitchen at home?

“GMA” Investigates decided to give some home kitchens a surprise visit with former New York City health inspector Kervyn Mark, who now works with Letter Grade Consulting, a private company. We scored violations based on New York City’s points system, in which every health code violation gets you points. The higher the points, the lower the grade.

With a score of 13 points or lower, an operator will earn an A grade. A B grade is earned with 14 to 27 points. Anything at 28 points or more earns the operator a C.

“GMA” and Mark came up with a “GMA” home kitchen inspection sheet to score violations based on New York City’s points system, and then we went knocking on doors.

We inspected Wanda Stathis-Jurgensen’s kitchen. Mark checked the temperature of food in her refrigerator, finding that stored rice was four degrees warmer than the 41 degrees it should have been. Stathis-Jurgensen didn’t have a meat thermometer, which is important to ensuring the proper minimum temperature of cooked meat. We also found dust under the hood of the stove.

“See all this dust. It can drop into the food and cause physical contamination,” Mark said.

“GMA” Investigates also checked under the sink. We did not find any mice, but we did find little bits of food.

nyc.rest.gradesWith a few other violations, Stathis-Jurgensen’s score was 40 points, or a grade of C.

Around the corner, Christian Hobbis kitchen appeared spotless. The dishwashing sponge was clean, all vents were clean and all chemicals were stored away from food, but a closer inspection revealed an expired milk carton.

With a few others issues uncovered, Hobbis earned a B.

In Jennifer Madison’s kitchen, we found separate cutting boards – one for fish, one for vegetables and one for poultry. It’s a good way to prevent cross-contamination.

But Madison, who has three children, was shocked to discover she had violated a major rule about leaving dinner out on the stove.

“I try to have dinner ready at like, 5, but I will let it sit out on the stove until 8:30,” she said.

After so many hours out, Mark told Madison she couldn’t put that food into the refrigerator because “it would have accumulated too much bacteria.”

We also found mildew inside her dishwasher, and Madison wanted to know whether that was making her dishes dirty.

“No, but at the end of the day it can contaminate if not treated properly,” Mark replied.

Two other violations gave her 12 points – our scoring system did not penalize her for leaving food out – so she ended up scoring an A. and she ended up scoring an A.

Overall, these home kitchens made the grade, and their violations could be easily fixed in an afternoon. Wanda Stathis-Jurgensen, who got a C, said she was going to get to work on the violations in her kitchen right away.

One other violation “GMA” Investigates spotted in several of the homes was deeply dented cans, which raises a concern about botulism.

Because cans are lined in the inside, when they are dented, the chemicals from the lining can seep into your food.

You don’t have to throw the cans away; take them back to your grocery store and ask for a new can.

The video can be found here.

Should swimming pools have restaurant-like grades for safety? Toronto thinks so

Operators of pools, spas, hot tubs and wading pools in Toronto could soon be required to post on-site inspection notices, letting the public know if any health and safety violations have taken place.

caddyshack.pool.poop-1In 2011, the Star revealed that pool operators were racking up multiple infractions for everything from dirty water and malfunctioning equipment to missing safety gear, but those inspection results were not revealed to the public.

The news that swimmers, spa-goers and students were being put at potential risk of disease and injury prompted Councillor John Filion, then chair of the Toronto Board of Health, to call for a prominent display of proof as to whether the facilities met city standards.

On April 28, the board will consider a new proposal from the medical officer of health to determine whether the city should draft a bylaw that compelling operators of pools, public spas (hot tubs) and wading pools to post a sign or document showing inspection outcomes. The medical officer will report, with the city solicitor, on the content of the proposed bylaw.

If the board votes to proceed, the proposal will then be considered by city council on May 6. Council will make the final decision. The proposed bylaw would apply to more than 1,600 facilities.

NYC reforms restaurant inspection system following outcry

Less than a year after New York City’s letter grading system underwent a massive rehaul, the Department of Health and the City Council have announced further changes to the system.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the DOH announced that restaurants will see a nearly 25 per cent reduction in fines associated with inspections by the agency, bringing fines back down to jake.gyllenhaal.rest.inspection.disclosurewhere they were before the grading system was adopted. Piggybacking on previous revisions, violations will be given fixed penalties, leaving out room for discretionary figures calculated by inspectors.

To further reduce violations during inspections, restaurants can “request a consultative, ungraded and penalty-free inspection to receive tailored advice about maintaining the best food safety practices at their establishment.” Restaurant owners had been hiring consultants to spot problem areas and ideally prevent fines during official inspections from the agency.

Restaurant grades in Hamilton (the one in Canada)

The next time you walk into a Hamilton restaurant, have a look at the front door or window. There’s a new, more colourful food safety inspection disclosure program being rolled out throughout the city this year.

Before 2014, restaurants would receive a green certificate to hang in their window if they passed a health inspection. However, the city had no way of indicating to the public if rest.inspection.hamilton.feb.14there were health or cleanliness issues inside short of pulling down that certificate — something most customers wouldn’t notice.

Now, whenever a public health inspector visits a restaurant for an inspection, it receives one of three certificates, depending on cleanliness and safety: green for a pass, yellow for a conditional pass and red for a fail, which means the business must close.

Similar systems have existed in the GTA and Halton regions for years, and Hamilton has been playing catch up. As part of the new program, the city has launched a website where people can check a restaurant’s health and safety inspection records.

These measures were taken to create a more effective way of disclosing food safety to the public, says Richard MacDonald, the city food safety manager.

The city performs between 400 to 450 health inspections in restaurants a month, broken down between high, medium and low risk establishments.

The city’s new colour coded system was first implemented on Jan. 1, and since it was ushered in, inspectors have issued 16 yellow cards for critical infractions and three red cards for closures – which is about average in the city, MacDonald says.

The three red cards were handed out to companies that had no hot water, because of frozen or burst pipes during January’s intense cold.

In 2012, 231 green pass cards were removed from restaurants, compared to 192 in 2013.

MacDonald says that according to inspector feedback, restaurant operators are heeding the new system. “They’re paying attention,” he said. “They don’t want to be wearing their reputation on the front door,” he said.

Failing food hygiene standards in Welsh primary schools, playgroups and after schools clubs

Hundreds of children and elderly people are being served “substandard” food from kitchens which have failed food hygiene inspections.

Eight primary schools, three after school clubs, four playgroups, and 10 nursery and pre-schools across Wales scored just one or two on the 0-5 rating system in the last 12 months.

Elderly people have also been affected as 30 care homes, three day centres and one wales.food.hygine.grade.feb.14supported living complex were also given hygiene ratings of just one or two.

If a premises drops below a rating of three, their hygiene standards are considered inadequate.

All the inspections were carried out in the last year and are the most recent published on the FSA website – but some schools may have been re-inspected since.

Grades come to Louisville food trucks; owners applaud

Max Balliet’s Holey Moley food truck has been inspected six times this year, passing the health department review without fail. Still, he hears the uninformed slights and innuendo — food trucks are dirty, messy, fly-by-night grease pits, potential salmonella breeders on wheels.

That’s why nobody is happier than Balliet that Louisville is requiring the city’s 49 registered food truck vendors to post health grades in their rest.inspec.grade.louisvillewindows.

“Being able to display our score is a good thing,” he said Monday. “Right now there’s no way for us to prove we’ve been inspected at all.”

Louisville’s Department of Public Health and Wellness has always required food trucks to follow the same health regulations as restaurants. But, until now, they haven’t had to participate in the city’s ABC Food Placard Program, the system that displays brightly colored letter grades based on cleanliness and food handling.

Food truck say the visible grades will help their credibility. “It’s going to be way better for business, for sure,” said Robb Ross, owner of French Indo-Canada Food Truck. Customers such as Donnie Guinn, who bought lunch Monday from Urban Kitchen at Bardstown Road and Midland Avenue, predicted the new rule would improve food quality in Louisville. “I think it’s a good thing, man,” he said. Skip Brewer agreed, saying he liked the idea of being able to see a score in the window the moment he walked up to order his food. “If every other place in Louisville has to have it, so should the food trucks.”

The best don’t hide; NY restaurants are still hiding their bad health department grade

Nell Casey of gothamist writes, “Like a high schooler hiding that C+ in algebra from mom and dad, many of the city’s restaurants are concealing their Health Department grade from would-be diners. The Daily News reveals that 1,356 restaurants were fined over the past year by the Health Department for camouflaging or not displaying their inspection grades. Of rest.inspec.grade.nyc.hide.jun13the deceptive dining spots, 745 had received “C” grades and 581 received “B” grades, leaving 30 over-achievers hiding their “A” grades… presumably because they thought they deserved an A+?

“Knowing that some diners might pass by an establishment with a poor grade, some restaurants take the risk of fine over the potential loss of a customer. “I’d rather take the fine than place (the C) up there.” explained Thomas Mak, manager of Williamburg’s Juniper. “It would have ruined my business.” Other restaurants cited more dog-ate-my-homework excuses, like letter grades getting lost in the mail or patrons pilfering the grades from out of the windows.

“Still others refused to display their grades as a kind of protest against the grading system in general. “There are many business owners who don’t like the stigma associated with letter grades, period,” head of New York City Hospitality Alliance Andrew Regie told the News.”