What a difference a grade makes

When I was about 10 or 11, playing goal in AAA hockey, I used to vomit before games I knew I was starting, Gump Worsley style.

There was this one time in a 3rd year cell biology class about a century ago, that I totally choked on an exam.

Guess I should have guessed I had anxiety issues back then.

I went to the prof the next day and she let me retake the exam and I aced it.

That’s the thing I’ve learned about anxiety, which is like playing goalie in ice hockey: sometimes you’re good, sometimes not so much (ya let in a goal, gotta get over it and keep your mind in the game).

Amy and I have a lot of shared values, but I can see that my anxiety is causing issues.

She’s going to a conference in the U.S. for a couple of weeks with the kid, and I’m going to a new rehab place (if what you’re doing ain’t working, try something different) with my trusted psychiatrist, beginning last Monday. It gives Amy some peace.

For at least three weeks.

I may write a little.

I may write a lot.

I’ve learned not to make predictions.

Can governments use grades to induce businesses to improve their compliance with regulations? Does public disclosure of compliance with food safety regulations matter for restaurants? Ultimately, this depends on whether grades matter for the bottom line.

Based on 28 months of data on more than 15,000 restaurants in New York City, this article explores the impact of public restaurant grades on economic activity and public resources using rigorous panel data methods, including fixed‐effects models with controls for underlying food safety compliance.

Results show that A grades reduce the probability of restaurant closure and increase revenues while increasing sales taxes remitted and decreasing fines relative to B grades. Conversely, C grades increase the probability of restaurant closure and decrease revenues while decreasing sales taxes remitted relative to B grades. These findings suggest that policy makers can incorporate public information into regulations to more strongly incentivize compliance.

Wiley Online Library

Michah W. Rothbart, Amy Ellen Schwartz, Thad D. Calabrese, Zachary Papper, Todor Mijanovich, Rachel Meltzer, Diana Silver



Dining in Finland

Readers know I’m a fan of restaurant inspection disclosure results, and now, so is Finland.

Disclosure systems for official food safety inspection results have been introduced in many countries including Finland in order to increase compliance of food business operators (FBOs). Although the disclosure systems are intended to affect FBOs, few studies have been published on FBOs’ experiences of these systems.

To investigate FBOs’ opinions of disclosed food safety inspections in Finland, a questionnaire was distributed in 2016. The questionnaire study also aimed to recognize factors affecting compliance and disagreements about gradings with a special focus on FBOs’ risk perception. In total 1277 responses from FBOs in retail (n=523), service (n=507) and industry (n=247) sectors revealed that the majority of FBOs perceived the disclosure to promote correction of non-compliance. However, many FBOs disagreed with the grading of inspection findings.

Most common topics of disagreements were maintenance of premises, record-keeping of own-check plan and adequacy and suitability of premises for operations. Logistic regression analysis showed that the likelihood of occurrence of disagreements with grading was higher among those retail and service FBOs with a lower risk perception. Similarly, the occurrence of non-compliance was associated with FBOs’ risk perception in all sectors. Thus, FBOs need proper guidance on food safety risks. These results can be used to improve the efficacy of disclosed food safety inspections.

Food business operators’ opinions on disclosed food safety inspections and occurrence of disagreements with inspector grading, 05 June 2019

Food Control

JenniKaskelaa, AnnukkaVainiobc, SariOllilad, JanneLundéna



Letter grades coming to Milwaukee restaurants

You’ll soon see letter grades reflecting the number of health code violations at restaurants in Milwaukee.

The hope is to cut down on foodborne illnesses.

In 2018, letter grades will be given to restaurants inspected by the city but posting them will be voluntary. Then in 2019, all restaurants will need to put those grades up for the public to see.

CBS 58 News stopped by the 5’O Clock Steakhouse, the first restaurant graded under the new system.

“2018 marks 72 years that this restaurant has been operating. So there’s like a lot of restaurants who are kind of stuck in doing things a certain way and traditions. And you have to maintain the character of who you are as a restaurant but there are certain things that do change,” said Stelio Kalkounos, Managing Partner at 5 O’Clock Steakhouse. 

That includes the city inspection policy.

“These letter grades are going to be posted so that everyone can know exactly where a restaurant stands and everyone can make certain they can dine with confidence that food safety and the lack of foodborne illness is our number one goal here,” said Bevan Baker, Commissioner of Health. 

5’O Clock Steakhouse got an “A.”

Restaurants can get an “A” “B” or “C” grade. A “C” means the place may have to temporarily close.


A-B-C disclosure system for Boston

Boston, you’re a big city with a strange accent, why haven’t you figured out restaurant inspection disclosure until now?

restaurant_food_crap_garbage_10Regardless, Boston plans to soon start assigning letter grades to publicly rate the cleanliness and food safety practices for all restaurants and other food-service vendors in the city, giving diners a visible new tool to confidently choose where to eat.

Officials hope to launch a pilot version of the grading system in early January. For the first year, restaurant letter grades — either an A, B, or C — would be posted online only.

But after that, as long as the program’s roll-out goes smoothly, the grades would be posted in storefront windows of every restaurant across Boston, resembling systems New York and other cities have been using for years.

“We want to make it as simple as we can for people to understand the health conditions at our restaurants,” said William Christopher, head of Boston’s Inspectional Services Department, which will oversee the program.

Christopher said he went to New York City recently to review that city’s program, which began in 2010. He also has researched grading systems in other cities, including Los Angeles, which has been issuing grades since 1997.

Locally, Newton launched a similar restaurant-rating program last month.

A Globe report in May detailed how a review by city inspectors 2014 found serious health code violations at nearly half of Boston’s food service vendors, including restaurants, food trucks, and cafeterias. However, Christopher said the city had been considering the grading system idea prior to that report.

Christopher cited how officials in other cities have said their grading systems have spurred improvements: reducing health violations, improving public awareness about food safety, and even boosting business for restaurants, by increasing competition for owners to keep cleaner stores.

“Everyone wants to be an A rating, so it motivates restaurateurs,” Christopher said in an interview Monday.

But such systems have also faced criticism. Some have questioned assertions that the grading systems lead to improved conditions, and others have accused the ratings of being arbitrary.

smiley.faces.denmark.rest.inspectionBob Luz, president and chief executive of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, reacted cautiously to the new initiative. He said such rating systems can oversimplify the results of restaurant inspections, which he noted the City of Boston already makes available online in more detail.

And the restaurant association thingy would be expected to say nothing else, using talking points from the National Restaurant Association. Go back and look at the crap that was hurled when Toronto adopted a red-yellow-green system in 2001 (or 02?).

I prepared a court brief on why the system was valid, but it never went to court because once a system is introduced, it’s hard to get rid of.

We’ve spent the last 15 years trying to determine the most effective disclosure systems.

Restaurant association types could do the same.

Inspection results should be public, but have limitations

My philosophy on disclosing restaurant inspection information hasn’t wavered much in the past 10 years: Make inspection results public and communicate them meaningfully to help patrons make decisions. There’s a patchwork approach to disclosure throughout the world: happy faces, letter grades, number grades or the not-well-used barf-o-meter.

Whatever the system is, it’s necessary to pull back the curtain on what happens when inspectors are around. The transparency not only builds trust in the system, but also allows folks to choose businesses based on their own risk tolerance.barf.o.meter_.dec_.12-216x300

But the inspection grades, alone, don’t tell patrons whether they are likely to get sick eating at the restaurant. To get a better picture the hungry (and interested) have to dive a bit deeper into what’s behind the grade – and if there are historical issues that keep coming up. That’s kind of what I told Lydia Coutré of Star News.

The posted score offers transparency and a point-in-time snapshot of the establishment’s food safety procedures. But because there’s a wide range of issues that could put a restaurant at a 100, a 95 or an 85, that number alone isn’t the full picture, said Ben Chapman, food safety specialist and associate professor at N.C. State University.
It’s just one day and could be a good or bad day for the facility and staff.
“The grading system doesn’t tell you whether you should eat at a restaurant or not,” Chapman said.

Whether a consumer “should” eat somewhere is up to the market.
Restaurants can earn a score as low as 70. Below that, a facility’s permit would be revoked.

Alicia Pickett, New Hanover environmental health supervisor, said as long as the restaurant falls in that 70 to 100 range, “it’s for the public to decide.”

A mid-80s score could come from several issues adding up such as cracked tiles, broken lights and dirty baseboards, Chapman said. Or it could represent an organizational problem where hand washing isn’t valued.

Doing more research into what violations led to the score and looking at trends over time can give consumers a better picture of the food safety procedures at a facility, Chapman said.

If there’s an issue that shows up time and time again and isn’t being fixed, that represents a different problem than a restaurant that was dinged for cracked equipment that they fixed or replaced by the next inspection.

The George on the Riverwalk Executive Chef Larry Fuller knows what it takes to get high marks – and what would leave a restaurant with a lower score.

When he goes out to eat, it’s the first thing he looks at. And he’s not alone, he said.
“We get customers coming in like we came here because of your health grade,” Fuller said of the 100 score the restaurant earned at its most recent inspection. “I mean they say that directly to our waitresses and our waiters, and I think that’s awesome.”

The 100 score is a point of pride for Fuller and his staff, and he wants to maintain that number.

“The health grade is a big part of the restaurant business,” Fuller said. “It’ll make or break your restaurant.”

But the grade may not tell you much about the food handling practices when the inspector isn’t around.

Fancy food ain’t safe food, LA edition

When the health inspector showed up at Wolfgang’s Steakhouse in Beverly Hills last fall, he found a cockroach in the hall and poor sanitation in the kitchen. He found enough critical violations, he threatened to suspend their permit and said he’d be back in two weeks to make sure they had cleaned up.

larry.david.rest.inspecBut seven months later, the inspector still has never been back to Wolfgang’s.

The county’s 10 million residents depend on the health department to inspect restaurants often, to make sure they’re clean and safe. But an NBC4 I-Team investigation has found LA County is failing to inspect many restaurants frequently, and food poisoning and filth at some eateries may be the result.

“We could be doing a better job in many areas,” says Angelo Bellomo, the head of the county’s restaurant inspection program, and director of LA County Environmental Health.

Restaurants like Nobu in Malibu, which serves sushi to celebrities like Halle Berry and Mel Gibson, are required to be inspected three times a year, according to LA County Health Department policy.

“I’d like to see three inspections a year in high-risk restaurants,” said LA County’s Bellomo.

Most restaurants are considered “high risk” because they handle raw meat, poultry, and fish.

But when I-Team examined the last two years of all restaurant inspections, it found thousands of high-risk restaurants aren’t getting anywhere near the required three inspections a year.

When 13 people who ate at Nobu contracted potentially deadly Norovirus in November 2014, the restaurant hadn’t had an inspection in over a year — October 2013. Nobu declined to comment to NBC4.

“You’re playing Russian roulette when you go out to dinner,” said Dr. Pete Snyder, a nationally known food safety expert who has trained health inspectors. “If you’re only inspecting once or twice a year, then the restaurants don’t fear you anymore.”

Diners are also finding that an “A” grade in the window doesn’t mean a restaurant has been inspected lately, or that it’s necessarily safe. Wolfgang’s, Coast Cafe at Shutter’s, Nobu, and Lunasia all had “A”s when people got sick there or when inspectors found critical violations.

“Wolfgang’s Steakhouse in Beverly Hills maintains the highest standards,” general manager Michael Connly told the I-Team in a statement.

“Shutter’s on the Beach operates under stringent health and safety standards in food preparation and cleanliness in the industry,” said Shutter’s GM Gregory Day, in an emailed statement to NBC4.

As for their cooks who we caught on camera eating on the job, a major violation, he added “any misconduct that may have taken place will be properly addressed.”

After getting sick at Lunasia, Holstein’s family said they have little faith in LA County’s inspection system or its letter grades.

NZ restaurant gets an E grade following inspection

I’ve seen A and B restaurant grades, and the occasional C. I know what R-rated is, but I’ve not seen an E-rating for a food business until now.

According to the New Zealand Herald, Kiwi Country Fried Chicken and Fish, an Auckland restaurant received the unsatisfactory E grade after a really, really bad inspection resulting in 11 charges.deceptive-restaurant-sign

The charges all relate to basic restaurant hygiene, including failing to keep utensils, surfaces and appliances clean; failing to ensure food is kept clean and free from contamination and is protected from damp and foul odours, and against birds, vermin, bees and insects; failing to ensure premises are cleaned sufficiently and regularly, and failing to cook food to appropriate temperatures. The inner-city venue was also charged with failing to train staff in food hygiene processes, failing to comply with regulations, operating without being registered with the council and without a valid certificate, and failing to ensure its food grade was prominently displayed.

That’s a lot of problems.

When NZME. News Service visited Kiwi Country Fast Food yesterday, its food grade was not immediately visible around the entrance, on the stairs leading down to the underground restaurant or on its food display.


87 Greater Manchester restaurants scored ‘zero’ ratings for food hygiene

Almost 90 restaurants in Greater Manchester have a zero out of five rating from the Food Standards Agency including restaurants near Piccadilly and the Trafford Centre.

Both Swadesh, a swanky Indian restaurant on Portland Street, and Rice Flame and Grill in the Trafford Centre, were among the 87 businesses receiving the lowest possible score.

Bullet-With-Butterfly-Wings-smashing-pumpkins-4349111-990-756-640x488The Manchester Evening News reports the borough with the highest number of zero star restaurants was Bolton, with 26 establishments receiving the low food hygiene score, while Salford came second with 13 restaurants being given no stars for food hygeine.

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 (ocfoodinfo.com) 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.

When a restaurant review turns to barf, it’s time to rethink restaurant inspections

Brad A. Johnson of the Orange County Register in California was planning to review a restaurant in Newport Beach this week. Instead, he got food poisoning there. Everyone at his table got sick. Unspeakably sick. For days. It was awful.

As the sickness intensified, Johnson went online and looked up health inspection reports for the restaurant. Inspections are a matter of public record, but nobody ever looks at larry.david.rest.inspecthem. This place has received a serious violation on every one of its inspections since opening two years ago. Coincidence?

Johnson  writes, If this restaurant had opened in Los Angeles instead of Newport Beach, it would have to display a letter grade of C, or possibly B, in the front window – and I never would have dined there. But because it is in Orange County, there’s no indication whatsoever that this place has been cited repeatedly for problems that pose very serious and immediate health risks to its customers.

It’s time to restart the debate about letter grades for restaurant health inspections in Orange County.

I’ve been reviewing restaurants in Orange County for a little more than a year now, and I’ve been poisoned on four separate occasions. This most recent case was by far the worst.

I worked as a restaurant critic in Los Angeles for 10 years. I always made a point of not reviewing restaurants with a grade lower than A. And I got sick only twice. Another coincidence?

Restaurants in Orange County are allowed to repeatedly fail their inspections without any consequences. They can “fix” the problem – but not the underlying behavior or lackadaisical mentality – and be back in business in a matter of minutes. Even in instances where the health department shuts down a restaurant and revokes its permit, the restaurant can go buy a new one and be right back in business, sometimes the same day.

The placards currently displayed in restaurant windows in Orange County are useless. A restaurant might pass inspection by the skin of its teeth, with serious repeat violations, yet it gets the exact same placard as a restaurant that receives a near-perfect score. That’s messed up. That’s why I got sick.

In 2008, Orange County came close to adapting a letter-grade system similar to the ones used effectively in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Riverside, New York, Philadelphia and many other places. The Orange County Grand Jury looked into the matter and, after hearing extensive testimony from consumers and restaurateurs, strongly jake.gyllenhaal.rest.inspection.disclosurerecommended adapting a letter-grade or color-coded system that would give consumers a clearer picture of every restaurant’s health score. County health inspectors backed the idea. This paper wrote extensively about the process and determined that if Orange County were to institute a letter-grade system, roughly 40 percent of the restaurants here would fail to score an A.

Meanwhile in Pennsylvania, the Allegheny County Health Department soon will roll out the A, B, C and Ds of a new restaurant grading program, officials said.

Critics, though, worry that a letter grade could misinform diners and unfairly hurt businesses.