The Daily Illini

Health officials discuss proposal for displaying food vendor health inspection results

By Megan Jones, Staff writer

Consumers can now see proof that the restaurant they are eating at will serve them safe meals, as the Champaign County Public Health Department and the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District propose all food vendors post the results of their recent health inspections.

Color-coded, single-page signs will display vendor’s results and will be placed on the front doors to ensure customers can see whether the building is a safe environment before even entering, said Michelle Mayol, chair of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District.

The proposal was discussed at a study session Monday night where citizens had the opportunity to express their opinions. The proposal will be passed on to each separate board to vote within the coming months. If passed, officials hope to have the signs in effect by Jan. 1, 2014.

The regulation will affect 1,112 food vendors throughout Champaign County, which includes private certified housing dining halls, but not University dining halls, said Jim Roberts, environmental health director at the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District. Vendors consist of food establishments including restaurants, grocery stores, food trucks and institutional facilities, such as schools, hospitals and nursing homes.

“It is good information for consumers to know whether or not they are eating somewhere that has been following the correct procedures to protect them against any foodborne illness risks,” Mayol said. “I hope it will bring knowledge to consumers and make restaurants more responsible for maintaining their facility for public safety.”

Roberts brought the idea to the Champaign County Board of Health in September 2012.

Michael Ruffatto, Champaign County Board of Health member, hopes that the notices will provide consumers with a chance to view the rating history instead of simply a sign saying they passed.

If passed, the proposal would not change the way establishments are graded, but it would change the way the public is notified.

“For the businesses that are in general compliance and have not had any problems, I hope these places will benefit because the public will see them as establishments that are working hard to prevent and looking out for the health and the welfare of the general public,” Ruffatto said. “On the other side, the businesses that have had problems with closure may see a hit to their business, which will require them to have the utmost compliance at all time for fear of failing future health inspections.”

Ruffatto mentions that the notices’ only downside is that restaurants that receive a “needs reinspection rating” would have to keep this specific notice posted on their windows for a designated period of time, which has not yet been established. He said restaurants may lose business as a result.

“They could have been in compliance by that time. It could have been fixed within 24 hours,” Ruffatto said. “So after that time of initial inspection, it could be in compliance, it just hasn’t been reinspected yet.”

Roberts hopes to change the rate the county holds inspections and make them more frequent so business owners do not have to wait to be in general compliance.

Mari Brocker, associate director for housing information, expressed concerns regarding how the notices would affect the University’s year-round private certified housing contracts.

“It would be very easy for a mother or father, who is also by coincidence a lawyer in the Chicago-land area, to come and read a checkmark on a green (plaque), that would otherwise indicate compliance, but misread, and then therefore make an argument for wanting out of their housing contract for the rest of the year,” Brocker said.

She added that the list of violation categories on the green plaque are very broad categories. For example, “improper chemical storage or labeling” could be a bottle of dish soap next to a bottle of ketchup.

“While that is a violation and while we want to correct those violations, it’s not so egregious as some chemical spill somewhere that could be over open food,” Brocker said.

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