What’s the score??

I received a text the other day from a friend reporting that a nearby restaurant got a “U” score on their most recent health inspection. It isn’t a place I frequent anyway but it got me thinking about how many people actually pay attention to these scores as I later drove by the restaurant and saw a number of cars parked outside.

Have you ever noticed the health inspection score on the wall when you walked into a restaurant? If you have noticed, do you know what to look for or what is considered an acceptable score? Have you ever walked out of a restaurant or decided not to go to a restaurant because of the score being too low in your eyes? Did you know you can find health inspection scores online for food service establishments in most counties? Do you even know why you should care about any of this?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that there are more than 76 million cases of foodborne illnesses each year in the United States leading to 325,000 hospitalizations and 1800 deaths. In the past few years there have been major food recalls that have gotten a lot of attention: peanut butter, spinach, and beef are some that come to mind. Food contamination can come from a number of sources: the soil in which plants are grown, sick animals, improper cleaning of manufacturing equipment, sick food handlers, etc. Each state writes its own food code to address these issues which is then enforced by local counties.

In 2007, the Georgia Food Code underwent a major overhaul. The focus now is on foodborne illness risk. The “grading” system was also changed to letters. Scores of 90-100 receive an “A” meaning excellence in food safety compliance, 80 – 89 receive a “B for satisfactory compliance, 70 – 79 receive a “C” for marginal compliance and below 69 points or below gets a “U” for unsatisfactory compliance. If a score of “C” or “U” is received, then that establishment will be re-inspected within 10 days. If the original score was a “U” and at least a “C” is not achieved upon re-inspection then the establishment is asked to voluntarily close until corrections are made.

So where can you find health inspection scores? In Georgia, the health inspection report must be displayed within 15 feet of the primary entrance to a restaurant or food service establishment. It also must be displayed on the drive-thru window. You can also look up scores on the internet by going to the county health department of the county in which the particular food service establishment is located. Here are links to a few in the metro Atlanta area:

Cobb County

DeKalb County

Douglas County

Fulton County

So, do I really pay attention to these scores? Yes, I do. It isn’t to say that I look every time I walk into a restaurant, but the majority of the time I take notice. And if the score is in the low 90s or below, I look to see what the specific violations are and then make my decision about whether or not to eat there. There have been quite a few times I have quit going to a restaurant after seeing a low health score. Just ask my husband – I’ve ruined some of his favorite places. But I believe in second chances if the score goes up.

I challenge you to be brave enough to look up the scores of your favorite restaurants and see how they comply with the Food Code.