Restaurants may be required to post inspection results

Restaurants may be required to post inspection results

CHAMPAIGN — Restaurant customers put their food safety in someone else's hands every time they dine out.

But a public health official says people need to see some proof when they walk in the door of a food establishment that it is following the rules.

Under a proposal that could become a new requirement for all restaurants and other food establishments subject to health inspections in Champaign County, a single-page, color-coded notice showing the results of the most recent inspection would have to be posted somewhere customers could see it.

And for Jim Roberts, environmental health director at the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, the best place for those notices to be posted would be right on the front door, "so people can be informed before they make their dining decisions," he says.

The notices wouldn't be the longer inspection reports the food vendors receive, Roberts says.

They'd be a shorter form, color-coded in green, yellow and red.

Green would mean the establishment is in general compliance, yellow would mean it fell below enforcement benchmarks and requires reinspection, and red would mean it was closed for violations that pose a danger to public health or safety, Roberts said.

Customers would also see on the posted notice a short list of violation categories and the number of times those violations were committed.

"We tried to have something that could be meaningful and easily understood by the public," Roberts said. "The report we give the operator maybe had jargon that operators understood, but is not easily understood by the consuming public."

This new requirement has been making its way through the public comment process, and food vendors will have one of their final opportunities to say what they think about it later this month before an ordinance change is sent to the boards of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District and the Champaign County Public Health Department to consider, Roberts said.

The two health boards will hold a joint study session at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 28 at the Brookens Administrative Center, 1776 E. Washington St., U.

Currently, food establishments are required to post in visible locations their health operating permit and a poster showing at least one method of helping someone who is choking, Roberts said. The posters are available free at the public health district, but in many eating establishments, he says, neither the permit nor a poster is visible.

Roberts said the new additional inspection notice regulation — which he'd like to see in effect Jan. 1 — stands to affect 1,112 food vendors throughout Champaign County.

That excludes University of Illinois food operations, over which the health district doesn't have jurisdiction, and cottage food operators that sell baked goods at farmers' markets, he said.

Vendors that would be affected would include permitted food establishments such as restaurants, groceries and mobile food trucks, along with the institutional kitchens of schools, hospitals and nursing homes, Roberts said.

Posting these notices has been under discussion for about two years, Roberts said, and food establishments have had several opportunities for comment.

"Most of them have been constructive," he said.

Posting inspection notices such as these is done in some other areas, Roberts said. And, he adds, people who dine out have expressed concerns at not being able to access inspection information.

"I think it's been a growing concern," he said.

Michael Johnson, general manager of Big Grove Tavern, Champaign, says the new requirement wouldn't trouble him at all.

"I think it's a good idea, as far as being aware of the food handling processes," he said.

The health district inspects restaurants several times a year, he said, so it's important for people to see a continuing problem at some restaurants.

The proposed new rule is a "step in the right direction," says Brant Houston, co-founder of CU-CitizenAccess.org, a community online news and information project that began in 2011 publishing inspection reports of local restaurants that fail routine health inspections.

"This is a public health issue," said Houston, who is also a professor and holds the Knight Chair in investigative and enterprise reporting at the University of Illinois Journalism Department. "The reason you inspect restaurants is to make sure the public can eat safe and healthy food. And what other public health districts do is, they publicize their results or make them easy to get, so people know about the status of the food establishment and make their decision about the place they want to eat."

Plus, he said, restaurant owners seem to be in favor of the requirement.

"It's great for business if you're constantly passing inspections," Houston said.

Pam Dempsey, CU-CitizenAccess.org coordinator, said the organization receives inspection reports from public health each month through a Freedom of Information Act request.

"We continue to FOIA every inspection report every month, every food establishment inspected for the previous month," she said.

The health district sends CU-CitizenAccess.org 100 to 120 emails a month, with each one containing a separate inspection report, she said.

See failed restaurant inspection information on the CU-CitizenAccess.org website at: http://bit.ly/WDaqnN

Roberts said failed inspection reports show just part of the picture, but when people also see notices coded in green, they'll be able to dine out at the place they've selected with confidence.

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Andrew R. Timms wrote on October 18, 2013 at 7:10 am
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Isn't there a connection between The News-Gazette and CU-CitizenAccess?

Dan Corkery wrote on October 18, 2013 at 9:10 am
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Andrew, thank you for your question. Yes, we have a connection to CU-CitizenAccess.Org. In fact, we have a few connections.

Our owner, the Stevick Foundation, contributed start-up money to CU-CitizensAccess.org.

Further, we have published many of the organization's stories — including those about restaurant inspections. I meet with Brant Houston and Pam Dempsey, CU-CitizensAccess' editors, several times a year to discuss possible stories.

And our recently retired photo editor, Darrell Hoemann, has been shooting pictures for CU-CitizenAccess.

Andrew R. Timms wrote on October 18, 2013 at 12:10 pm
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Mr. Corkery

Those connections are extensive and relevant any time The News-Gaztte reports on CU-CitizenAccess. Why weren't they included?

Dan Corkery wrote on October 18, 2013 at 3:10 pm
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Andrew,

 Again, thank you for your comments.

 Yes, those connections were not explained in this particular story.

 But past stories (restaurant inspections, poverty, bridge inspections, economic interest forms, property inspections and other projects) have made clear that our owner has funded this organization. We commonly publish an explainer box with each CU-CitizenAccess piece we've published.

 And the fact that we have been publishing CU-CitizenAccess stories for nearly four years (since December 2009) indicates that there is a strong connection between us.

 I apologize if the ongoing cooperation between our two organizations was not clear.

Andrew R. Timms wrote on October 18, 2013 at 7:10 pm
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Mr. Corkery

Are you suggesting that past publication exempts the reporter from present and future inclusion of the on-going connection? That there comes a time when the reader is no longer entitled to determine for themselves whether or not there is bias in the story?

Is there currently a system for including "explainer boxes" in on-line publication?

Bulldogmojo wrote on October 18, 2013 at 8:10 am

Aren't they already viewable online? When I go into a restaurant I want to enjoy the atmosphere and not read about a stalk of brown celery some busy body health inspector saved me from. I think this town is already too aggressive against small business with it's fees and intrusions.

I have a better idea; how about our busy body mayor take a break from punching people and make the GLUT of so called "contractors" in this town display the current receipt on the side of their trucks for paying workman's comp which they rarely pay!! Fix that!

787 wrote on October 18, 2013 at 11:10 am

When I go to a restaurant, I don't want to be nauseated and vomiting for the next two days, because the food I ate was made from ingredients that weren't safe... or the kitchen isn't clean, or there's no soap for employees to use after they use the restroom.

Brown celery is the least of my concerns.  If you're not smart enough to know better than that, well....

Bulldogmojo wrote on October 18, 2013 at 12:10 pm

hy·per·bo·le: the use of exaggeration as a rhetorical device or figure of speech

 If you're not smart enough to look up inspections online or take notice of the restaurant's condition when you are dining, well....

787 wrote on October 18, 2013 at 3:10 pm

Who said that I don't look them up, genius?

Bulldogmojo wrote on October 19, 2013 at 9:10 pm

Then why do you need to see them hanging in a frame when you arrive at the restaurant? Should we wrap you in bubble wrap too in case you fall down. Life is a wager go outside and take the risk...

Molly1 wrote on October 18, 2013 at 2:10 pm

I guess that my concern is this:

A local restaurant that has been open for two decades, and always recieved great marks on inspections, suddenly has a bad day, and a series of ants appear on the floor the day of an inspection.  First time that there have ever been ants there, perhaps they came in on a box containing lettuce earlier that day.

Now suddenly, their perfect inspections for 20 years go out the window by people seeing the giant red 'stop sign'.  People around town avoid this trusted restaurant like the plague until the red sign comes down.

So the good, old, always healthy, mom and pop shop has a two month period when business trickles down to 3% of their normal traffic, and they lose so much money that they have to close up shop before they have the opportunity to gain back their green 'GO' sign.

Everyone loses.

I think it would be better to have a number, say the percentage of inspections passed.

Then the hypothetical restaurant that I mentioned, their number would drop from a 100% down to a 97%.  People would still eat there with that good of a rating.

But the really bad restaurants that fail more than half of their inspections would have numbers in the 40% range, people should think twice about going into a location like that.

787 wrote on October 18, 2013 at 3:10 pm

A few ants that appear on inspection day won't close a restaurant.  It takes a whole lot more that that.  

And like other things, it always seems to be the same restaurants that are getting written up... over and over again.  

Molly1 wrote on October 18, 2013 at 10:10 pm

Alright, so if that is true, about the same restaurants being closed repetitively, then with my method, those restaurants would have really low numbers, and could be safely avoided.  Right?

C-U Townie wrote on October 22, 2013 at 12:10 pm

While some people may have access to the information online, that does not mean that everyone does. Nor does that mean that everyone knows where to access the information online. Having this information posted at the actual restaurant location might encourage restaurants (specifically the repeat offenders) to be more diligent with following health codes. 

If you do your homework regarding the process for health code violations it isn't one bad day that closes a restaurant. It takes serious negligence on the part of a restaurant to warrant a closing. And if a restaurant hits that level of negligence I'd like to know. It's not like there's a cell phone app where you can readily access information on health code violations. 

And look at it this way, there's a good chance that once it's reopened it'll be the safest place to have a meal!