Emery Cowan of the Arizona Daily Sun writes that if a restaurant has print out a calorie count for most meals on the menu, why not a letter grade for how safely it prepared its food?
That’s one of the reactions to our story earlier this month reviewing the Coconino County’s food inspection procedures and listing some of the more serious offenders. We found that although most eating establishments were being inspected twice a year and some even forced to close temporarily, diners were kept largely in the dark. A closed restaurant must post a notice but is not required to give a reason, and the public health department’s bimonthly report usually comes out well after any violations – large or small — have occurred.
Most restaurants never come close to being closed and their violations are relatively minor and fixed almost immediately. What benefit is it to diners to have outdated information about infractions that don’t rise to the level of a health threat?
We suppose that if a letter grade was the only information available to diners, it could be misleading. But in the age of the Internet, the Health Department can post a lot more information if diners are interested. They just have to know where to look.
But unfortunately, Coconino County’s website has no portal through which citizens can obtain information about the results of a restaurant’s inspection or even lodge a complaint. Even when a restaurant like China Star, which has been forced to close twice in the past five years, posts a notice of closure, there is no way for diners to find the 16 complaints it received since 2009 or the multiple critical violations it accumulated.
A brief tour of the Internet turns up dozens of cities with web sites containing interactive public databases of restaurant inspections and enforcement actions. Many have explanations of the scoring and ranking methods, the most commonly cited critical and noncritical violations and the risk associated with different types of violations.
We urge county health officials to put a restaurant inspection public database on the fast track.