5 years of red-yellow-green inspection grades in Sacramento County

Social embarrassment works on a number of levels: Scarlett letters, verbal putdowns, passing gas. Even stickers of shame, the New York City practice of slapping a neon yellow sticker along with a $65 fine on cars that illegally block street cleaners. According to the New York Times, the fine is largely irrelevant, it’s the embarrassing – and difficult to remove — stickers that is fueling city council’s move to end the 25-year-old practice.

With food safety, social embarrassment is an effective tool to increase awareness of issues: iPhones recordings of dancing mice, restaurant inspection grades, making people barf and hearing all about it.

How to measure effectiveness remains problematic.

Five years ago, Sacramento County in California launched a green-yellow-red food facility rating program, about 10 years after Toronto in Canada launched a red-yellow-green restaurant inspection disclosure program.

Val Siebal, director of the Environmental Management Department, said that since the program began, food facilities receiving a green or “Pass” placard increased from 88 to 94 percent. At the same time, major health risk violations that could potentially cause foodborne illness have decreased. Restaurants are inspected three times a year and other food facilities twice a year. Routine inspections are unannounced.

“The program has been well-received by food facility owners and operators, and is popular with restaurant patrons. The color-coded placards give consumers an instant message about the establishment’s food safety inspection record and compliance with State and local food safety laws,” said Siebal.

A food inspection results website and smart phone apps were recently made available. Visit m.ffi.saccounty.net with your smart phone or tablet and view the inspection results for food facilities in your immediate area. Free apps can be found in the Android Market and iTunes app stores by searching for ‘Sac Food.’ Visit our mobile web & app page for more information.

The 25-minute “How to Get a Green” training video is available in four languages (English, Spanish, Cantonese, and Vietnamese). It can be viewed online at www.emd.saccounty.net/EnvHealth/FoodProtect/FoodVideoTraining.html.