Imagine dining at a German restaurant that had been infested with German cockroaches, a restaurant where the sauerbraten, at times, really has been sour.
Wouldn’t you like to know the grade health inspectors had given the restaurant before you sat down to eat? Seeing the rating as you walked in – say, posted near the front door – would be nice.
The foregoing scenario is why Pima County should adopt a recommendation made by the Center for Science in the Public Interest and force restaurants to prominently post their inspection ratings.
Currently, the county encourages restaurants to post inspection grades, but does not require it. The county’s position is that if a restaurant doesn’t show off its “E” certificate (for excellent), it’s a tacit admission that the establishment has some problems.
But food safety in restaurants is too important an issue to give an establishment the option of glossing over a low score. This year’s salmonella outbreak, linked to bad tomatoes, is proof of that. And CSPI notes that since 2002, at least eight people have died and thousands have fallen ill in the U.S. from eating tainted food at restaurants.
Getting the grades out in the open helps make for safer dining.
In Los Angeles County, which in 1998 adopted a process that included forcing restaurants to conspicuously display their ratings, hospitalizations for food-borne illnesses decreased 20 percent, and the average inspection score improved by 10 percent.
Mandating the display of ratings would raise the stakes. An informal poll of Tucson Citizen readers reveals 66 percent would not eat at a restaurant that got a mediocre rating. The county’s inspectors would be under more pressure to be precise and professional in their evaluations. That would be good for restaurants and diners.
But several restaurant owners told the Citizen that they would welcome a rules change. “For the employees, that grade is going to be a constant reminder of where they are . . . and what they need to do,” said one.
The CSPI report noted that of the 20 cities studied, Tucson had the sixth-best ratio of food establishments to inspectors. It also lauded the county for providing restaurant workers classes in food safety, and for giving the public access to inspection ratings through the county’s Web site, www.pima.gov.
However, as one online reader of the Citizen commented, most people do not check the Internet to peruse restaurant ratings before heading out to get something to eat.
The county is doing a lot of things right when it comes to food safety. Forcing restaurants to post their inspection grades would be a welcome addition to the menu.
To learn more
Download the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s report on restaurant inspections.