So what does it mean if you see a “B” health rating on the front door of a restaurant, bar or other food establishment?

IMG_5268Laddie-da, hoopla and fanciness abound in this Los Angeles community of West Hollywood, CA also known as “Westwood”. Lots of money here and lots of money being spent here. Nice cars, nice stores and nice restaurants. Well, that’s if it doesn’t have a “B” health rating in the front door; or is it just all of that . . . or lack there of?

I was embarrassed at the fact that I didn’t notice on Yelp (I think they have just begun posting the health ratings) while looking up the restaurant our party was planning to fulfill reservations this evening; trying to get a heads up on the menu and trying to get a heads up on the restaurant. I had felt great pride in mentioning some of the menu offerings and some of the review highlights during the car ride over there, but I also didn’t notice that Yelp has begun to pulish health ratings. I am convinced that had I been more dilligent and prudent in my reporting, to include the “B” rating, we would not have had the opportunity to visit the restaurant (a first for all 5 of our party), and not had the opportunity to be a Westwood sheep following each other into a culinary abyss of a “B” rating.

This evening, I was one of those sheep, just following the others into the wolf’s den along with all of the people following what everyone is saying about this popular eatery. But nobody is leaving. My bet is that none of the patrons this evening had become aware of the “B” health rating that has been at the front entrance prominently displayed for two months now. But what does it mean? How common is it? Is it a show stopper for the business?

I have a son who had refused to eat at  a “B” rated restaurant in his past. He was the one that saw the sign displayed at a restaurant we visited, at the time, in Palmdale, CA. But what does that mean, really? I even had to do the research and revisit what I had learned sometime ago while attending culinary school and getting my “Serve Safe Manager” 40-hour training certification. At the time it was of the first courses I took. I knew there was a system from the Department of Health for the rating, but I could not totally remember all of the factors involved, as there are many, like training and competency of employees all the way to refrigeration and holding temps. It was a good refresher.

I had begun to discount the “B” rating as possibly something simple. Something simple like a few minor violations (2 points each) that reduced the overall score from 100 into the 80-89 point range. But how many minor violations? Or was it a couple of major violations (4 points each). But then I saw that the rating has been there for two months and I remembered back when I was just a young lad working in my first delicatessen. At the time when we first opened and we recived a “B”; but our score was upgraded to an “A” in just several days, certainly not prolonged over the course of a couple of months as is the case with the restaurant in question. So what gives with this snooty-clientele restaurant? Why do they have such a poor rating . . . or is it really considered poor?

The Department of Health gives this explanation:

1. Each violation on the Food Inspection Report is assigned a point value depending on its importance. For example, a Major Risk Factor is worth four points, a Minor Risk Factor is worth two, and a Good Retail Practice is worth one.2. Once the Specialist completes an inspection, the points are added up and subtracted from 100. The resulting number is the inspection “score”.

3. A letter grade is assigned to the facility based on the inspection score. An “A” grade means the facility earned a score of 90 to 100 percent and is in satisfactory compliance with state law; a “B” means the facility earned a score of 80 to 89 percent and needs improvement; a “C” means the facility earned a score of 79 percent or less and is a failing grade.

4. The grade card must be displayed near the public entrance during hours of operation. (https://www.sandiegocounty.gov/content/sdc/deh/fhd/ffis/intro.html.html).

Another determination of scores and valuation of inspection were found here in an adjacent county:

A grade (A, B, C) or score card will be issued to each facility at the end of all routine inspections. The card issued will be based upon the score received on the Retail Food Official Inspection Report. The grading is calculated as follows:

90 to 100 points A Generally superior in food handling practices and overall food facility maintenance.
80 to 89 points B Generally good in food handling practices and overall food facility maintenance.
70 to 79 points C Generally acceptable in food handling practices and overall general food facility maintenance.
0 to 69 points Score Poor in food handling practices and overall general food facility maintenance.

A facility receiving a score less than seventy percent (70%) will be issued a score card and not a grade card. The score card will indicate the actual score received.

The grade/score cards must remain posted until the next routine inspection, at which time the inspector will issue a new grade/score card.

All food facilities that have a critical violation may be subject to closure regardless of the score received on the inspection report. Food facilities that score below seventy percent (70%) twice within a twelve (12) month period are subject to closure and further legal action. (http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/eh/misc/ehpost.htm).

So as you can see, there are several factors that come into play on the health and sanitation ratings at the places that you eat. I showed you the explanation from two different and adjoining counties (not directly next to each other) in the same general location of the state to show you that they are basically the same.

Now, being familiar with different regulatory agencies because of my environmental position I understand that there are other factors that come into play with those regulatory inspections. They are all supposed to be based on an inspection checklist, and they are: but different personalities (not supposed to, but they do have some minor bearing) can and do also come into play. I hope they didn’t piss off the inspector, but cha never know.

I mentioned that the heath score card letter grade had been in place for a couple of months at this particular establishment. Many regulatory inspection cycles will be conducted on a calendar year cycle of every six months or every quarter based on the significance of the program being inspected and whether they are a Federal, State, County or City inspection. Some programs may only receive inspections once a year like the Food Establishment Waste-Water Discharge (FEWD) permits that control the grease traps for establishments facilitating kitchen equipment like grills and deep-fat fryers. That may be the cycle used in your county, but it may also be more or less frequent depending . . .

Anyway, if the inspection cycle is quarterly then holding on to their B permit for only 3 months seems to be possibly not that long, especially in Los Angeles, but even that seems very short for that enormous population. Could this restaurant actually have to hold that posture for longer than 6 months? That’s like torture for the owner.  If you had a good relationship with the regulator then you could possibly get them to return earlier unless there are restrictions to maintain that rating in your particular municipality. Just remember, thay don’t come around that often so protect your permits and health ratings.

Another rule of thought is they have a new inspector and this particular establishment hasn’t yet learned the particular inspector’s habits and what or where they normally look and what they normally test. Yes, I know that the restaurant is always supposed to be on top of their game and sanitation should always be a paramount process in the kitchen, but sometimes things fall through the cracks . . . literally. Possibly it’s a new guy and ‘new guy’ is making themselves known as being a hard-ass or something like that. Maybe the restaurant is just having a bad day. They kinda know when the inspector is coming based on the last inspection cycle, so they should have all of their employees training and certifications current, but cha never know . . .

Another thing I have learned after all of these years doing environmental stuff along side of regulators is they will see something upon arrival at the beginning of their inspection, like fresh food or eggs being on the counter. They will perform the remainder of their inspection and return to the container on the counter after they have looked around the entire place. If that container is still out and in the same spot, then they give you a violation based on their finding of fresh food being left out and not properly held. You have got to be on your toes and understand the habits of your inspectors . . . and your employees.

I figured out what it could be . . . a combination of incidents that all lined up at the same time. You know, ‘the old Swiss Cheese’ model. I know that from my safety-guy days. Maybe it was several team members not having their health cards, but I doubt that it would actually be ‘like everybody’. I just think it was a bit of this and a bit of that. But how common is that B rating?

The “B” rating is far less common than the “A”. It’s a numbers game of sorts. We eat and eat and eat. We rarely look at the health signs unless we have some kind of compulsive, reactive disorder or something like that. I may now have that since my recent heightened awareness of the rating signs in the door . . . and on Yelp.

We are now aware of the meanings of those rating signs, but I wouldn’t personally search out those establishments to ‘test’ the cuisine. I can’t say that I would avoid one if I knew of it ahead of time; but I think the fact remains that it is not necessarily a show stopper for a business. Possibly a small black eye at best for an established restaurant. Possibly a bit more of a concern in a prominent neighborhood with many well-to-do establishments; but if the clientele has been patronizing the chef, then they probably have a trust and will continue to return without hesitation. Possibly a small dent for them, but what about those new places, like the one I had worked at many moons ago that had just opened their door? What about the effects of Dicks like me that find this stuff and write about it. What about this day and age of social media and Yelp. Information travels much faster and is far more wide spread. It can be a show-stopper but it doesn’t need to be if the restaurant’s leadership is committed to sanitation standards and communicating with their clientele. People do understand, but they sometimes also follow the others (sheep) into some of the hatred found on such media.

We now understand how that rating has been assigned. We also understand that the rating has a chance of being reversed and the effects it may have on clientele returning to your establishment. But we also have learned about habits of diners. People continue to enjoy food wherever they have become accustomed to patronizing. They rarely look at the health signs, but understand they may become a laboratory animal of sorts. It’s not all that either. We are human and we do like to eat, even pushing aside something that doesn’t look or smell good. I just hope that look and smell is not where I’m eating.

How often will I find that B rating now that I am aware of it. Why am I now aware of it? Because I ate at that restaurant . . . and I liked it?

Dicks

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