Citizens For A Better Norwood

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Why don’t Ohio restaurants post their sanitation ratings?

1.) They aren’t required to because 2.) there’s no rating system

A couple of weeks ago, we asked the Norwood Health Department for their most recent restaurant inspections. We explained to Health Commissioner Donna Laake that our intention was to publish the inspection results on our blog for the benefit of our readers. She told us she, too, plans on providing the information on the new Health Dept. website, scheduled for completion this July. Great, we thought. We’ll go ahead and publish the results between now and July.

Then we saw the 29 inspections and several re-inspections done in March, April and May. Yes, there were a few real “yuck factor” problems that were quickly addressed, but for the most part, as far as our untrained eyes could tell, much of what was on the reports seemed pretty routine: food temperature testing, some floor tiles missing, back flow and water pressure testing, issuance of temporary food service operation licenses, and the like.

What was missing from the reports, we noticed, was a numeric score and/or letter sanitation grade for the establishments that were inspected. Then we remembered we’ve never seen an Ohio restaurant with a posted A, B, or C sanitation rating like we’ve seen in other states. Uh oh, time to call Donna back.

CBN: Donna, we noticed the inspection reports don’t state a numeric or a letter grade for the restaurants.

Donna: That’s right. The State of Ohio doesn’t require it.

CBN: What? (gasping for air) What? Does that have anything to do with why Ohio restaurants don’t post their sanitation ratings for the public to see?

Donna: Yes. The State of Ohio has never devised an A-B-C grading system like other states have.

CBN: (still gasping for air) You, you mean to tell us the State of Ohio has never…

Donna: Yes, that’s right. Ohio has never devised a rating system and is way behind other states on this issue. However, at least once a year, the Norwood Health Department does what is called a “critical control point inspection.” There are 14 points we look at, starting with where the food originates, how it’s stored upon arrival, how it’s prepared; in short, every step from the point of origin to delivery to the consumer is looked at.

So there you have it. Historically, it’s been very difficult for Ohioans to find out how their favorite eateries fare on inspections, unless they wanted to visit their local Health Dept. periodically and ask to see them. But, thankfully, this is changing. Not only is our own Health Dept. going to start providing the information online, today’s Enquirer reports the Hamilton County General Health District is going online, too, beginning this Friday, with reports on 3,000 establishments, including restaurants, nursing homes, schools, etc. But it won’t be with a rating system because there isn’t one. And since there isn’t one, we‘re going to leave publishing the Norwood inspections in the hands of our local experts. We’ve decided we’ll wait a few months, along with everyone else, to view them on the new Norwood Health Dept. website.

The State of Kentucky has been way ahead of Ohio on this issue for many years. This Louisville government website allows visitors to view ratings simply by plugging in the names of restaurants. (We noticed a few “C’s” for Arby’s and Wendy’s locations.) The Lexington, KY Health Dept. website states that the Lexington Herald Leader publishes restaurant inspection results every Wednesday, which they have done for several decades. One of us recalls how the paper used to report both the descriptions of violations and the resulting numeric score, as well as the subsequent re-inspections, once the problems were corrected, with the new scores.

Ohio, or least Hamilton County, seems to be doing some catch up on this issue in terms of making the restaurant inspections more available to the public, but we think a rating system and a requirement that restaurants post their letter grades would be a great addition for consumers.