Orange County's restaurants will continue with the same rating system from the health care agency, but the signs in the window likely will be color-coded soon, judging from today's discussion on the issue on the Orange County Board of Supervisors.
The board voted 3-1, with Supervisor Janet Nguyen abstaining, to send a plan back to staff for some tweaking. A majority of supervisors want signs in the window that make it more obvious to customers if a restaurant has passed or failed an inspection.
Restaurants that pass would get green signs, ones that fail would have a red sign in the window, and a business that has been "conditionally" passed, but requires a re-inspection, would have a yellow sign.
The board will vote on the new placards at a meeting in May. It has until June 3 to respond to a grand jury report recommending changes to make the restaurant signs clearer to customers.
Most neighboring counties give restaurants letter grades such as A, B or a C to denote the quality, but Orange County's supervisors rejected that proposal.
"I've always been concerned about a B grade and an A grade ... if it's a B, how do you move back up to an A?" Supervisor Patricia Bates said.
Nguyen decided to abstain because she was concerned that new signs would lead to an increase in fees for restaurant owners. Bates doubted it would cost much more to add color to the placards.
Board Chairman Shawn Nelson said he would like the county to get rid of an "award of excellence" given to some restaurants who consistently demonstrate high quality in food safety. Officials use it as a way to give restaurants more of an incentive.
Nelson noted building owners don't get such incentives.
"We don't have gold medals to those people who have super, heavy-duty reinforcement" in their buildings, Nelson said.
"I don't know why we would want to be involved in giving out medals and pats on the back. It's really not something the government should be doing. If you don't meet public safety requirements you should be closed, period."
Let the restaurant owners go to a private rating organization such as Zagat for a commendation, Nelson argued.
"The common-sense approach is pass-fail. Let someone else give gold medals for excellence in achievement," Nelson said. "We're just about protecting health, not giving out awards."
After today's meeting, Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach said the letter-grade system used in neighboring Southern California counties has been erratic and subjective.
"For some counties an A is a pass and a B is a fail," Moorlach said. "In other counties an A is great, a B is OK and a C is not so great. But if they get a red sign you know it's closed, you're not going to eat there."
--City News Service