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Restaurant Inspections May Get an Overhaul

Another city, San Angelo, TX, may be moving to the letter grading system that has become so popular lately. San Angelo Live reported that they are looking at moving from the current demerit system to the letter grade instead in order to make it easier for consumers to understand.

The letter grading system requires establishments to post their grades in the front window/door of the restaurants. Interesting provision in San Angelo would allow the restaurant to pay a fee for a re-inspection within a 7-10 period. This allows restaurants that normally run great operations to recover if they were having a bad day when the inspector showed up. This seems like a fair alternative to some of the other options. Some critics of the letter grade system have said it can take up to 3 months to get a re-inspection. By implementing a fee based re-check the health department won’t get stretched thin doing re-inspections and the restaurants won’t have to keep a low grade in their window for very long, especially if the infraction really was a fluke.

It’s only a matter of time before this system is implemented everywhere. Already there are multiple apps available for consumers to easily search health inspection scores for restaurants in a specific area. Now more than ever running safe operations is critical to a profitable operation. You get a bad grade and it shows up on the local news, in your front window, and on a free consumer app.

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The Health Department in San Angelo may soon be changing the way they grade local restaurants for inspections. At the request of Rodney Fleming, at a past city council meeting, the Health Services Director, Sandra Villarreal researched the grading system and presented her findings to the council on Tuesday at the Mc Nease Convention Center.

“Our current system is a demerit system,” said Villarreal. “A lower number score is a better score than a higher score.” When using a demerit system, earning demerits is not a good thing as it denotes an area where an establishment is failing. The current numerical grading system is on a scale from zero to seventeen, zero being the absolute best, seventeen being the absolute worst.

“In the last two days I have had a lot of phone calls,” said Fleming. “Normally when I get a lot of phone calls it’s a negative, I get a lot of people that are very mad at me. Every person that called me in the last two days has been very positive, they would love to see a letter grading system,” said Fleming.

“In several cities nationwide they have postings of the grades above the doors. Everybody that I talked to on the phone was for that. When I did my research on it I found that in the bigger cities when they do the inspection, you would get your score and then have a 7 to 10 day period to have a re-inspection. Let’s say you are normally a grade A establishment, and you had an off day and got a C; you would have seven to ten days to pay for a re-inspection fee, then they would come re-inspect it, and that would be your final grade. So, it’s not a deal where you get killed right there.”

The idea of posting these inspection grades on the front door or window of local restaurants is what brought Bernay Sheffield; co-owner of Zentner’s Daughter Steakhouse to Tuesday’s meeting.

“Food safety is non-negotiable, and a priority issue to the restaurant-and-foodservice industry,” Sheffield read from a written statement. “The industry is committed to professionalism. The industry certainly does not condone restaurants that violate good sanitation procedures or health codes,” he said. “However, snap-shot, isolated inspection examples (like grades posted in the window) do not present a picture of the entire industry. It is important to educate the public about what grades mean before requiring restaurants to post them publicly.”

Sheffield is concerned that the posting of the letter grade will be misconstrued by the public and reflect poorly on the industry.

Fleming says implementing the letter grade system A through D would provide the public better indication of the establishments’ standings according to the Health Department. Copies of the 2014 retail food establishment inspection reports are posted on the city website.

“For me I know that we post these grades, but I know that no one goes and looks at those. I don’t even know where it’s at on our website, honestly I probably wouldn’t know more than the general public out there,” he said. “So I like the idea somewhat of posting on the storefront, but I’m not hung up on that, what I would like to see though is the letter grade system be put in place. We at least should post that on our site where they could go and they would know if it’s an A, it’s an A, if it’s a B, it’s a B,” he continued. “And still giving them the 7 to 10 days to re-inspect, and we can decide that as a council, and I think that’s a fair thing to do for the general public out there.”

Fleming said he would at least like to see the letter grade system be implemented on the website.

When asked her personal opinion of the grading system, Villareal hesitated for a moment, then said, “The grade is good because it actually gives the public a way to interpret what the score is. Demerit system is a little different. It is just a more simplified version of what we are doing, it just makes it easier,”she said. “Now as far as posting it, that doesn’t really matter.”

The city of San Angelo has over 500 food establishments. The Health Department has two inspectors. This has created another conundrum for the issue; leaving council to table the topic pending more information, sending Villareal back to the drawing board.

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