Double standard on public health

Double standard on public health

When it comes to making informed choices, it's our view that the more information available the better it is for the public.

Different units of government make different rules, and that's why, starting on Jan. 1, there will be two sets of regulations regarding the posting of health inspection results for restaurants in Champaign-Urbana and those in the county.

In Champaign-Urbana, food establishments will be required to post inspection-result placards regarding compliance with the health code. In Champaign County, there will be no such placards.

The board of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District has ordered the posting of the green/yellow/red placards while members of the Champaign County Board recently rejected the recommendation of county health board members to do the same thing.

There's no disputing the right of different entities to write different rules. But it's unfortunate, nonetheless, that county board members voted 11-9 to withhold this information from the public.

The county board majority may feel it's helping food-related establishments protect their good reputations. But those good reputations may be undeserved, and, if so, what board members are really doing is hurting consumers who might not make the same choices if they had more information.

Still, half a loaf is better than none at all. The decision by the cities' public health district to require the placards will allow both those inside and outside the city limits to make a judgment about the effect, if any, the placards have.

It's our view that operators of restaurants in Champaign-Urbana will feel compelled to make food safety an even higher priority than it is now and not run the risk of having to post embarrassing information regarding food inspections. If so, that's good for public health, for consumers and for the businesses themselves.

At the same time, operators in the county won't have the same incentives as their counterparts in Champaign-Urbana. Further, they might be perceived by the public as being allowed to operate under less stringent standards and, as a result, be less attractive for consumers.

That's an unfortunate dichotomy, one that will be revealing to watch as it unfolds in January.

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion

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pattsi wrote on November 20, 2013 at 10:11 am

Several points of clarification about this system that caused me to vote "no" even though I am a thousand percent in favor of transparency and informing the public as to the health inspection aspects of any restaurant within the county. My reasons were expressed publicly and on the record when Jim Roberts came before the CB to explain the proposed system, based on what is done in Sacramento, CA. (I am all for looking at other models.) After that meeting, I met with Mr. Roberts one-on-one to further express my concerns and make concrete suggestions about the system. Further, I shared these concerns with Julie Pryde, CUPHD director. Unfortunately, none of the expressed concerned were given any credence. One last informational point before elaborating on the concerns has to do with the approval process for implementation. The placard system was approved by the County Board of Health, an appointed body by the CB, and the CUPHD board made up of the elected township supervisors for Urbana and Champaign and the CB chair, directed by statute. Then the issue comes to the CB, all elected officials.

The green, yellow, and red placard system simply put does not indicate to a customer that a restaurant is a clean and safe environment. The reason for this has to do with the scoring system used by CUPHD. The system can allow a restaurant to receive a green placard and still have an egregious health violation. Another aspect, a restaurant can receive 5 violations that do not add up to a score that would award a yellow or red placard; yet, those violations are health violations. Further, the inspection schedule is on an annual visit with a sprinkling of some random visits. Therefore the green placard awarded even though violations exist remains in place for approximately one year. The scoring system needs adjustments so none of the above described circumstances can happen.

Overlaying the above is how to change behavior so restaurant owners do not receive repeat violations. This ought to be  major goal. Yet the system being implemented is being done so in a manner that we will never actually know whether effective or not because only one type of system is being implemented, no control group of restaurants, no random assignment of the implementation. Even though it is being espoused that the system will be observed for 6 months, this will tell us nothing useful based on the manner of implementation. In addition, there are only 9 inspectors available to do all of this work. This is not sufficient staffing to cover all of the restaurants let alone monitor the implementation.

Last but not least there was absolutely no use made of university expertise as to how to design a system that would help create healthful eating environments and convey with clarity the health conditions of each and every restaurant in the county. Indeed, the discussion on a system has been ongoing for about 2 years, this is no reason to implement a system that does not convey to the consumer accurate and clear information and potentially a false sense of assurance.