In April, the Lexington-Fayette County Board of Health approved a new policy which requires restaurants to post inspection scores in a conspicuous spot near the business entrance. In Fayette County, restaurants are inspected every six months and the scores are to be posted following their first inspection after May 14. While some restaurants have elected to go ahead and post their last prior inspection, its important to note that it will take up to six months from the May 14 implementation date for all permitted establishments to receive their routine inspection and have their score officially posted by their health department.
Before delving into some details of the new policy and local ramifications some broader discussion of food safety is appropriate since the reality is Lexington is merely joining many cities across the United States (including Louisville) with such a policy.
Food safety is an important matter and all the restaurant operators I know in the Bluegrass take it very seriously. It is estimated that foodborne diseases cause an estimated 76 million illnesses in the United States annually. Approximately half of these are associated with restaurant meals. Additionally, more than 70 billion meals are purchased annually in U.S. restaurants which accounts for nearly half of total food expenditures. These facts make it clear why public health departments consider preventing restaurant associated foodborne illness an important task. Some cities are posting scores on-line to make the information even more accessible.
On a state level, the Kentucky Restaurant Association (www.kyra.org) performs a valuable education service by offering their ServeSafe Sanitation course around the state throughout the year. This is a national certification and many health inspectors from all over the state take the course to get certified. Additionally, many restaurant operators and their employees obtain their ServeSafe certification. This common base of information helps ensure that those being inspected and doing the inspections are operating with a common knowledge base. At the local level, the Lexington Fayette County Health Department also offers food safety classes and associated certification programs.
From talking to local restaurateurs the general feedback I have received is that this is not big event for them. The good operators were practicing proper food safety and want their restaurant operating at a high level on several dimensions including those items covered in a restaurant inspection. Additionally, anything that can be done that gives the consumer more confidence in dining out is good for business in the long run. The only negative issues might be that posting inspections may look a little tacky to some and/or take away from a restaurant ambiance. Another issue is the concern over whether inspections are performed objectively and consistently. I visited a fast food restaurant over the weekend that had its inspection nicely framed and clearly visible as you entered the front door. There are some businesses excluded from this policy and they include retail, mobile food units, pushcarts, restricted concession and temporary food service.
The Lexington-Fayette County Health Department policy makes restaurant inspections public record and anyone can request the information by contacting the Environmental Health office (231 – 9791). The inspection process uses a 44 item checklist with a total possible score of 100.
It uses a point system with one to five point violations with the higher point violations being the more serious. All violations with one or two point items may be corrected at the time of the inspection or by the time of the next routine inspection. The point vio-lations impact the overall inspection score. A score of 85 or above with no four or five point violations will be posted with a numeric value in green. A score of 84 or lower or those with four or five point violations will be posted in red. The more serious four and five point violations must be corrected within 10 days. If a restaurant scores below 70 it will be issued a “Notice of Intent to Suspend Permit. “The restaurant will then have five days to request a hearing or their permit to serve will be suspended.
Restaurateurs are a resilient and hardy group and used to adapting to new reporting requirements. This is a policy that is found throughout the United States and was implemented with consumer safety in mind.
Mark Sievers, a former restaurant executive with Yorkshire Global Restaurants and YUM! Brands, owns The Sievers Company LLC a business brokerage and consulting firm. Mark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.