County Meeting with Restaurants Owners for New Health, Safety Grading System

A new policy is expected to require Santa Clara County restaurants to post grades from their latest health inspection report on the front window of the establishment. No more hiding that cockroach problem.

The county Board of Supervisors decided on Tuesday to work on updating a decade-old rule to make health and safety information about food service public. Placards won’t go up until after a series of community meetings, though, to give the county’s 9,000 restaurants a heads up and prepare them to get a good grade the first time.

Supervisor Joe Simitian spearheaded a law in 2000 that gave consumers the right to ask for inspection reports on demand. But, as an investigation by the local NBC station earlier this year revealed, restaurant employees weren’t versed in the local rules.

Pretty soon, the public will see the letter grade on the window—green, yellow or red—and online with the full inspection reports. By law, the restaurant already has to show you the latest report if you ask for it.

“This new system is the result of an extensive public outreach process,” says Jim Blamey, head of the county Department of Environmental Health. “The color-coded system focuses on critical risk factors that affect public health.”

Placard colors represent different grades. Green means one major violation was recorded and corrected. Yellow: two or more major violations were spotted and corrected. Red means, well, find another place to eat.

The county defines major violations as a practice that poses an imminent health hazard to customers and warrants immediate corrective action or closure. That could mean employees don’t wash their hands, the food isn’t stored at the proper temperature, someone’s working while sick, sewage problems or vermin.

“The goals of the restaurant grading/placarding system are to help consumers make informed choices about where to dine, and provide incentives to the restaurants to do better meeting environmental health standards,” Simitian says. “It is very important that the information is accessible to the public and easy to read and understand.”

It’s important to the restaurants, too, given that scoring a B or higher tends to bring in higher revenues, according to a study by UCLA business professor Phillip Leslie.

In addition to new grades, the county will likely add more details in each inspection report online and assign a numerical score that reflects all major and minor violations identified by the Environmental Health Department.

New permit costs comes with the new system: $100 a year from every county restaurant to keep the program running. Some of that money will pay for an incentives program, too, to encourage restaurants to keep clean. Environmental Health employees will host workshops in five languages to train businesses how to achieve a green placard.

“It is important that the system be very easy for consumers to understand,” Supervisor Cindy Chavez says in a statement. “We live in a very culturally diverse county with different approaches to food preparation. We need to make sure that all restaurant owners are informed about the grading system and provided with necessary training.”

A number of California counties already have a similar system in place, including Sacramento, San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles counties.

Here is the workshop schedule for restaurant owners:

TUESDAY, October 15
— Mountain View Public Library, 2-4pm, 585 Franklin St., Mountain View (English)

WEDNESDAY, October 16
— Gilroy Public Library, 2-4pm, 350 W. Sixth St., Gilroy (Spanish)

THURSDAY, October 17
— Milpitas Public Library, 2-4pm, 160 N. Main St., Milpitas (Chinese)
— San Jose Public Library, Tully Branch, 2-4pm, 880 Tully Rd., San Jose (Vietnamese)

MONDAY, October 21
— Cupertino Community Hall, 2-4pm, 10350 Torre Ave., Cupertino (Chinese) 
— Mexican Lindo Restaurant, 1:30-3:30pm, 1595 Monterey Rd., San Jose (Spanish)

TUESDAY, October 22,
— Cherry Sushi, 2:30-4:30pm, 2910 El Camino Real, Santa Clara (Korean)

WEDNESDAY, October 23
— Giorgio’s Italian Food & Pizzeria, 2-4pm, 643 W. Calaveras Blvd., Milpitas (English)

THURSDAY, October 24
— San Jose Public Library-Tully Branch, 2-4pm, 880 Tully Rd., San Jose (Vietnamese)
— San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce, 2-4pm, 101 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose (English)

TUESDAY, October 29
— Stanford—Arrillaga Family Dining Commons, 2-4pm, 489 Arguello, Stanford (English)

WEDNEDSDAY, October 30
— Cherry Sushi, 2:30-4:30pm, 2910 El Camino Real, Santa Clara (Korean)
— San Jose Public Library-Bascom Branch, 2:30-4:30pm, 1000 S. Bascom Ave., San Jose (Spanish)
Public meetings for consumers:

MONDAY, October 28
— Los Altos Library, 6pm, 13 S. San Antonio Rd., Los Altos

TUESDAY, October 29
— Morgan Hill Lion’s Club, 6pm, 12415 Murphy Ave., San Martin

WEDNESDAY, October 30
— Santa Clara County Vector Control District, 6pm, 1580 Berger Dr., San Jose

Clarification: The County of Santa Clara approved workshop meetings for new placard/grading system but is not expected to finalize its new system until later this year.

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

One Comment

  1. I would love to see the similar policy implemented for each one of the departments at the city hall so the public sees their grades as well!

    Dreamers dream and wishers wish….

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