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Ratings system coming to local restaurants?

By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly

Is King County ready to hand out grades to county restaurants? A petition with over 2,000 signatures hopes that this is the case.

The petition started by Seattle resident Sarah Schacht is proposing reforms to King County Public Health to better protect restaurant-goers from health code violations. The petition encourages King County Public Health to create publicly posted restaurant inspection scores, improve its website and add its scores to sites like Yelp. With the potential for a ratings system, ethnic restaurants, including Asian restaurants may be affected by the new system.

The proposed reform requests that the health department post “grades” in the front windows of King County restaurant establishments. Cities such as Los Angeles and New York have grading systems of A, B and C for its restaurants. Similar to elementary school grades, “A” is the top grade for a restaurant establishment. King County has not committed to a grading system although Manager of Food Protection for Public Health, Becky Elias stated that the department is “committed to some public display that quickly informs customers how a restaurant fared.”
In addition to the restaurant grading, the petition hopes to include its inspection scores on the community recommendation site, Yelp. Cities around the country are starting to post health inspection reports on Yelp in addition to reviews of the restaurant.

The petition was started by Seattle resident Sarah Schacht who fell ill when she ate at an Ethiopian restaurant that she later found out had failed multiple health inspections since 2010. Although King County has a comprehensive web site to report food safety issues with restaurants, Schacht believes that the county can do better.

King County Councilmember Joe McDermott responded to the petition supporters in agreeing that the “Food Program’s rating system should be more understandable and accessible to King County residents.” Councilmember McDermott indicated that the county is working with a consultant to come up with recommendation on how to improve the system.

With the news that a grading system is coming soon, some Asian restaurants might be concerned. A recent review of closures in 2014 made public by the King County Health Department includes 4 Asian restaurants out of 10 listed on its web site. The type of food made which is typically made fresh, lack of knowledge of the rules, and cultural customs may be the reasons why many Asian restaurants are cited for violations and even closed.

Earlier this year, restaurant owners in the International District met with local health inspectors to open lines of communication when it came to safety and health expectations for restaurants. The purpose of the meeting was to make inspectors that may be new to the area familiar with the cultural nuances of ethnic restaurants. A language barrier may be an obstacle in communication as some restaurant owners do not speak English as a first language. This may be an issue with health inspectors that cannot convey safety and health hazards for the restaurant as well as educating the owner as to how to resolve violations of the health code.

With a low grade issued by the health department, restaurants would likely see a decrease in business as customers would find alternatives with higher grades. The grades would give restaurants the incentive to raise its health and food safety standards.

Along with the push for better standards in the petition, the health department is seeking public feedback on its website and will hold public meetings in the near future. The health department indicates that it plans to have a new system in place by the end of 2015. 

For more information, visit www.kingcounty.gov/healthservices/health/ehs/foodsafety/publicinput.aspx

Jason Cruz can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com

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