Food vendors should be required to display health inspection results

Just because you have a confident idea of what you’re eating doesn’t necessarily mean that what you’re eating was prepared safely in a health-inspection passed kitchen.

With more than 250 restaurants in Champaign alone, chances are you’ll always be trying something new. And although trying out new restaurants is always an experience, trying something new also means you’re probably unfamiliar with the establishment.

To ensure that all restaurant customers are aware of the dining establishment’s current and previous conditions, the Champaign County Public Health Department and Champaign-Urbana Public Health District are proposing that all food vendors post results of recent health inspections and use a color-coded sign to depict various results.

Green signifies general compliance, meaning the restaurant passed the inspection; yellow signifies a required re-inspection, meaning that there were violations and the restaurant now has a chance to fix them; and red signifies closed, meaning that some violation — whether health- or operating-related — closed the establishment.

And when you consider that there are more than just restaurants selling food, this proposal becomes even more necessary.

Restaurants, grocery stores, food trucks, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, even private-certified dining halls are considered food vendors and are, therefore, included under the proposal. It’s reassuring to know that regardless of where we decide to get our food, we’ll have some confidence that it’s safe, or at least that we can determine for ourselves whether it’s safe.

It seems like a win-win situation: Customers will be aware of the conditions of the establishment they’re eating in, and restaurateurs will be encouraged to keep their establishments up to par with health inspection standards. But overall, this proposal is more for the sake of the customer than the restaurant.

Dining establishments are plentiful and food choices are vast and even repetitive on campus. This can only add to the problem when there’s a population of students who don’t so much care about what they’re eating, but just eating in general.

How many restaurants have you entered that displayed its health inspection results? How many of them have you looked at? How many restaurants have you entered that don’t display its health inspection results, but, from the look of the place, it really should?

That’s the thing: We typically don’t care. But if all food vendors are required to visibly display health inspection results, then, to an extent, we’re forced to see it. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing: seeing where and what you’re eating.

Consider the popular elbow-room-only Mexican eatery, Maize, located at Green and First streets.

In December 2011, Maize was hit with nine critical health violations and eight additional non-critical violations. On one hand, it’s important to realize that there is clearly an incongruence between diners’ positive experiences and the reported low quality of the establishment. Just because it’s constantly busy doesn’t mean that it’s consistently safe.

Yet, on the other hand, this also gives restaurants the opportunity to address and fix the violations before re-inspection.

Restaurants should be held accountable when some failure on their part results in the harm to or negative experience of a customer. Requiring all food vendors to display health inspection results won’t just give them the opportunity to improve, but it will give customers the opportunity to develop a more well-formed opinion on where they want to eat based on the inspection results.

We certainly deserve to be informed about where we’re eating, and restaurants should always be held accountable to do so in the first place.