County passes new food-safety law

Restaurants will be required to post full health inspection results on site and online

Restaurants in Santa Clara County will be required to post a food-safety grading placard in their windows starting this fall, per a proposal the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved Tuesday, April 29.

The new law mandates that all restaurants publicly post the color-coded placards indicating their inspection levels -- green for pass, yellow for conditional pass or red for fail/closed. In order to pass, restaurants cannot have more than one major violation ("major" is defined as any violation that poses an imminent health hazard). An establishment with two or more violations would receive the yellow "conditional pass" placard.

Restaurants that fail to correct violations upon inspection get slapped with the red card and are closed until they comply. This rating system is modeled after Sacramento County's "Green-Yellow-Red" grading system.

Santa Clara County does currently post restaurants whose permits have been suspended, along with the reason for the suspension and dates they closed and reopened. An online database is also searchable by restaurant and posts the most recent inspection report.

The law will also require that complete inspection results -- including all violations -- be posted on the Department of Environmental Health website, along with an "easy-to-understand" online score for these results (from 1 to 100).

"Right now, when you walk into a restaurant, about all you know for sure from a health and safety standpoint is that it hasn't been bad enough to get closed down," Simitian said in a statement. "And if nobody knows you're 'just barely good enough,' then there's no real incentive to do better."

The statement also calls food borne illness a "major public health issue," citing a Disease Control and Prevention estimate that each year, roughly one in six Americans (or more than 48 million people) gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases.

"This is pretty straightforward," Simitian said. "If the results of our health inspections are readily available, then local restaurants have an added incentive to improve food safety, and local consumers have the information they need to make informed choices."

Under the new law, restaurants will eventually have to pay an annual fee, but Simitian said there will be no fee increases in the next two fiscal years. When fiscal year 2016 arrives, staff said they don't expect restaurants to pay more than $100.

The county will bring on two new hires -- an additional environmental health specialist and a senior environmental health specialist -- to help ensure re-scoring of restaurants can be completed in a timely manner if the establishment has corrected the violations.

Simitian has long advocated for increased public access to restaurant-inspection information. While serving as supervisor in 2000, the board did approve a previous proposal he put forth to post health-inspection results online, but it was never actually implemented.

"In fact, when I returned to the Board in 2013, I discovered that we'd actually gone backwards in terms of our online disclosure efforts," he said. "I'm glad we're finally poised to make progress, even if it's coming 13 years later."

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Like this comment
Posted by Puzzled
a resident of another community
on Apr 29, 2014 at 11:44 am

Why can we not have the simple "A - B - C" cards that all restaurants in Los Angeles County must display? Why isn't this a statewide system?

For those who have never visited LA County, every restaurant must display a card at the entrance with their "grade" (A, B, or C) from the most recent inspection. I think a consistent, statewide system of notifying consumers about restaurant food safety makes more sense than a patchwork of local variations.

Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 29, 2014 at 12:36 pm

Typical Joe Simitian uselessness. The need for this sort of being in the front window is not going to create safer restarants than we have now. The number of restaurants that are closed is generally quite small, and the violations are not generally all that bad--since the number of people who can trace any kind of food-borne illness to local restaurants is not high, if one were to look for these events in the local papers.

Simitian has managed to get his name in the paper once again--but has not done anything to actually increase the sanitation of all of the restaurants in Santa Clara County.

It's way past time for this man to retire--and let people with a real sense of purpose have a chance to make the decisions needed to make manage government's affairs.

Like this comment
Posted by senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 29, 2014 at 2:06 pm

Way to Go Mr. Simitian.

Obviously The "Joe" posting above has never had food poisoning.

Like this comment
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of another community
on Apr 29, 2014 at 2:06 pm

GREAT news!

The restaurant signs are long overdue. There are some pretty dodgy restaurants in town that will now have to clean up their act.

Like this comment
Posted by UC Davis Grad
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 29, 2014 at 6:45 pm

[Post removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by ChrisC
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 29, 2014 at 7:07 pm

ChrisC is a registered user.

Arizona also has the A, B, C variety. At the same time ... the new law where chefs, bartenders, etc. have to wear gloves is the stupidest thing and makes our food less safe. So, before, hopefully, chefs washed their hands in between tasks for food safety. Now what are they going to do? change gloves? wash the glove? it is more difficult to get bacteria off the glove than off the skin. And, busy chefs might not do either now. But, hey, let's institute a rating system.

Like this comment
Posted by Support Clean Restaurants
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 29, 2014 at 7:40 pm

@Joe - It really does improve food safety. It isn't a surprise that when restaurants are held accountable for their health rating, they work harder to improve it.

In Los Angeles, before they required the inspection scores to be posted, only 58% of restaurants received an A grade. Just 5 years after the program began, 83% received an A grade.

Like this comment
Posted by Roger
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 1, 2014 at 9:44 am

Why a placard?
Use the British system.
One major health violation and the place gets closed till it passes.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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