Grand jury green lights color-coded inspection system for Orange County eateries

Eleven years after Toronto came up with the red-yellow-green restaurant inspection grading system, an Orange County, California, grand jury on Thursday recommended the county adopt a health inspection system with green, yellow and red placards, instead of letter grades, to inform customers whether food-service establishments are complying with the health code.

The county is the only one among its neighbors without a letter-grade system, and Thursday’s report was the latest attempt to give consumers OC.color.gradeseasily recognizable information. Previous tries here met opposition from the restaurant industry, but this time may be different, officials say.

The Board of Supervisors has three months to respond to the recommendations.

“I’m not trying to put restaurants out of business,” said Supervisor John Moorlach, who recommended a similar system in 2008, “but I want to make sure they’re doing their best to get a good green tag in the window.”

Patrons can get a copy of the restaurant’s latest inspection report online ( or if they ask for it at the restaurant, but hardly anybody does, said Russ Bendel, the owner of Vine Restaurant in San Clemente.

Colored signs “definitely will help guests choose where they want to go if they have multiple options,” he said.

The grand jury recommends using the same three categories as today, but coloring them like traffic signals. This is “a more practical approach” than letter grades, the report says, without the “disruption and burden” and expense.

“Improving the visibility of the current unremarkable graphic to a more distinctive image is an overdue step forward,” the report says.

It criticized other counties for “operating without any conformity” in their letter grades – for weighing certain infractions differently.