Does the grade meet consumer expectations?

One of the factors that make for a successful restaurant inspection grading system is consumer confidence in the system. Do consumers feel the grade accurately represents the risk associated with dining at a particular establishment? If the answer is no, it’s unlikely the system will be used to its full potential. Sure, there will always be consumers that don’t notice (or care) about the inspection grade in an establishment window; but consumers who do care, and want to use the system, should feel it is reliable.

The Press-Enterprise Online reports that in San Bernardino or Riverside, CA counties the “A” card at an establishment may not mean what consumers think it means.

An "A" placard hanging in the window doesn’t necessarily reflect a sparkling-clean kitchen…San Bernardino County unveiled its retooled Department of Environmental Health Services Web site, where you can check restaurant inspection reports online.

[In both counties] restaurants can get A grades even if they had unsanitary kitchens when the inspector showed up.

The Cheesecake Factory in Riverside, for example, got an A grade on July 7, even though the inspector found food that wasn’t being kept at the proper temperature to inhibit bacterial growth. Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar in San Bernardino, when it was inspected April 16, got an A grade despite having food-contact surfaces that weren’t clean and sanitized.

But those violations were immediately corrected. When inspectors find critical health hazards like those, they don’t leave until the problem is fixed. If a serious hazard can’t be corrected on the spot, the restaurant is closed, program managers in both counties told me in separate phone interviews.

Riverside County also retooled its online restaurant-grading information. Since June, it has been possible to view inspection reports back to April 2008.
San Bernardino County allows you to see restaurants’ inspection histories back to October 2004 online. (Riverside County plans to add prior-year inspections.)

Riverside and San Bernardino counties use the A, B, C letter grade system, pictured right.