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Santa Clara County rolls out restaurant scoring system

Uploaded: Oct 8, 2014
Cheers to transparency: Starting this week, Santa Clara County diners will be able to access online full health inspection information for any and all eateries, from full service restaurants to bakeries, delis and markets.

The County Department of Environmental Health announced Monday the launch of a "new and improved" website for reporting food facility inspections and grades. It's searchable by facility name or location; you can view most places' major, moderate and minor violations in recent years and when inspections occurred, along with inspectors' field notes from visits and a resulting numerical inspection score from 1 to 100.

However, as you'll see below (and as pointed out by astute reader Max Hauser in a comment below the story), the presentation of data is flawed. If you search for a restaurant, it brings up past violations from times when that particular restaurant might not have even been open yet. For example, see what comes up for the Oren's Hummus new Mountain View location, which opened in July:



The August 2013 violations were from the previous tenant at 126 Castro St., Workshop Burger Bar & Grill.

Under the new law, food establishments are also required to post placards on site indicating the results of their most recent health inspection. A green sign indicates a passing grade and yellow, a conditional pass, meaning some major violations were found but they were all corrected upon inspection. There's a red placard for those who fail health inspections, though technically customers should never see one, since any facility that fails will be closed until the violations are corrected and a new inspection is completed.

These changes are the result of a new food-safety law that was passed in April.

"Whether you're grabbing a quick lunch or settling in for a fancy dinner, you want to know that the food was prepared in a kitchen that's clean and safe," County Supervisor Joe Simitian, who pushed for the changes, said in a statement. "Now that information is available online and at the front door."

"Foodborne illness is a serious public health problem," he added. "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report an estimated 76 million U.S. cases of foodborne illnesses annually -- including 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths."

Play around with the new website and you might notice that not all of your local eateries have the full data. The county said that because the system is new, scores and inspection results will be coming online over the course of the coming months. Older scores will be retained to allow customers a sense of how each restaurant has performed over time.

It's a big win for Simitian, who actually first advocated for such changes during his first term as supervisor 14 years ago. In 2000, the Board of Supervisors did approve a previous proposal he put forth to post health-inspection results online, but it was never actually implemented.

"Look, this is public information," Simitian said. "The public should have easy access to it. Now they do. I appreciate the work of the Department of Environmental Health over the past year in making this new scoring and reporting system a reality. This is a definitely a case of 'better late than never.'"

Comments

 +  Like this comment
Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Oct 8, 2014 at 4:23 pm

Sheesh, about time. It is crazy it took so long for Santa Clara to adopt this common sense regulation. Los Angeles did it in 1997. Stanford researchers showed that average score went from 75 to 90 in one year after restaurants had to post their score. That's more progress than came from 10000 inspections and closures.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Max Hauser, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Oct 8, 2014 at 7:32 pm

Max Hauser is a registered user.

For some years, the MV Voice (and I assume also PA Weekly) ran their own weekly restaurant-inspection blotter column (like a police blotter), reporting specific infractions that the inspectors wrote up. That information has long been available from the County's inspection office, anyone can get it online, and it's much MORE detailed than the summary report illustrated above. Almost all infractions reported were violations of preventive rules and did not indicate actual health problems, just that measures to avoid them weren't properly followed (such as storing refrigerated cooked food on shelves above, not below, raw foods).

I recall one old downtown MV restaurant surfacing almost routinely with such rule infractions (it's long gone now).


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Oct 8, 2014 at 11:44 pm

Restaurants not adhering to preventive rules is what leads to food borne illness, and public display of scores shames restaurants into following (and learning) good health rules. You want a restaurant that cares about the seemingly minor details. A restaurant that doesn't follow the law that they have to post a "must wash hands" sign in the bathroom is more likely to have employees that don't wash their hands.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Max Hauser, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Oct 9, 2014 at 2:14 am

Max Hauser is a registered user.

The screenshot picture above reveals a bug in the "new and improved" website, or its database.

I reproduced the same screen, it's the "Detail" page available after the two separate Oren's locations are found (on a preceding page) using the search terms shown. Link to this detail page: Web Link

Problem: The page lists two inspections in 2013, one of them (August 2013) finding six violations. Oren's didn't open in MV until July 2014. In 2013, 126 Castro housed an unrelated restaurant, Workshop Burger Bar and Grill.

So the SCCDineOut website currently gives casual readers the misimpression that Oren's in MV has a past history of violations. Whether those violations represent the former restaurant tenant, or some other data (they don't come from the other Oren's because it has a different inspection history), they're misleading.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Elena Kadvany, a resident of another community,
on Oct 9, 2014 at 9:33 am

Max -- That's a really good point and catch. Very misleading. I'm going to email the county!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Max Hauser, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Oct 10, 2014 at 8:00 pm

Max Hauser is a registered user.

Follow-up: I checked the inspection site's record on several other Mountain-View restaurants that opened in the last year or so. Oren's in MV is not an isolated case.

These other restaurants currently show inspection violations dated well before the business opened:

Chennai Kings (opened June 2014)
Doppio Zero (opened Feb 2014)
Masa Sushi (Mountain View site opened March 2014)

Pho To Chau changed owners a few months ago and remodeled, but kept the name. It shows records of 2013 violations that I believe predate the current business.

Gochi and The Liquid Menu both show data I believe to be obsolete, but no violations.

I think the actual inspectors do a very conscientious job. The problem here is the misleading data presentation on the public website.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Foody, a resident of College Terrace,
on Oct 13, 2014 at 9:57 am

Thank you for posting this blog article and providing a link to check out local restaurant health inspection reports. I think that restaurants should be required to have a placard with their most recent score posted in their front window. Not everyone gets around to looking at this website and it would be a good reminder for the restaurant to meet their health inspection requirement.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Um, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Oct 13, 2014 at 2:17 pm

Foody--did you even read Elena's article?

"Under the new law, food establishments are also required to post placards on site indicating the results of their most recent health inspection. A green sign indicates a passing grade and yellow, a conditional pass, meaning some major violations were found but they were all corrected upon inspection. There's a red placard for those who fail health inspections, though technically customers should never see one, since any facility that fails will be closed until the violations are corrected and a new inspection is completed"


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Oct 13, 2014 at 5:05 pm

When do the placards start going up?


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Elena Kadvany, online editor of Palo Alto Online,
on Oct 13, 2014 at 7:19 pm

Elena Kadvany is a registered user.

Mr.Recycle: I saw signs up around town last week -- not sure if it's fully rolled out, though.


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

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