Appetizers
July 30, 2007
Report Card on Report Cards

To judge by all the Sacramento County restaurants that have posted bright green food-safety signs near their front door, diners may be wondering if any ever get less desirous yellow or red ratings.

Yes, indeed, but fewer than county public-health authorities anticipated when they launched the color-coded program in January, they said in a press release issued this morning.

Going in, they predicted that one of every five food facilities would get a yellow placard upon their first inspection. A yellow sign is to be posted when major food-safety violations are found. Any uncovered violations are to be corrected immediately, and the restaurant can remain open pending a subsequent re-inspection to assure continued compliance with safety standards.

After six months of the new program, however, just 12 percent of food facilities, which include grocery stores, school cafeterias, bakeries and the like as well as restaurants, were issued yellow cards. Officials of the county's Environmental Management Department credit the favorable showing to the cooperation of food retailers and to the department's educational food-safety programs, which have included 135 classes aimed at helping operators learn what they need to do to get a green placard.

Since January, 5,276 food facilities have been inspected and issued cards by the county's 28 health inspectors. About 88 percent got green signs and slighter less than 1 percent got red cards. A red card means food-safety violations that pose an immediate health hazard were found and that the place must be closed until they are corrected and the premises has been reinspected. The average closure has been less than three days, say county health officials.

Whether the program is affecting the incidence of food-borne illnesses is difficult to gauge. In the first six months of 2007, county public-health authorities received 135 complaints of food-borne illnesses, compared with 121 during the first six months of 2006. Complaints can stem from several causes, only one of which is restaurants, notes Dr. Glennah Trochet, the county's public-health officer.

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