Next time Mercer Island residents go to their favorite restaurant, they may notice something new — a sign by the front window telling them just how safe and clean the business is.
As part of a program that began in January, restaurants throughout the county are receiving a new rating and window sign when they receive their food safety inspection. Depending on how many and which violations inspectors find, food vendors will either be ranked as “Needs to improve,” “Okay,” “Good” or “Excellent.”
Diners will also spot Emojis on the inspection signs — a unique addition that Public Health of Seattle and King County added after conducting a focus group with University of Washington students.
Public Health officials decided to revamp the food safety rating system over a year ago after hearing loud and clear that the public wanted more information.
“We received comments in all forms — emails to us, calls to us and sometimes they’d come directly into our program offices. We found over the years — particularly in 2013 and 2014 — that we were receiving a lot of questions about getting a rating system,” said Food Program Manager Becky Elias.
Previously, restaurants would receive either a “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory” inspection. A restaurant would receive an “unsatisfactory” inspection for a single or many “red critical” violations that could lead to food-borne illnesses.
A reinspection was required if a restaurant tallied 35 or more red violation points, and was closed if the restaurant accumulated either 90 red violation points, or 120 points in violations that could cause food-borne illnesses or lesser maintenance and sanitation issues known as “blue critical violations.”
Inspection reviews did not inform patrons of a restaurant’s past transgressions. Now, a restaurant’s inspection history will contribute to their overall rating.
“That was actually something that we heard from the business community and our inspector community. There are so many variables that can happen on a given day — there could be a change in management, changes in staff, it could just be a particularly busy day, there could be a new inspector in that area. The phrase that we were hearing them say was that a single inspection is just a snapshot in time and doesn’t tell you how well a business is likely to perform on any given day,” Elias said.
Restaurants in the “Excellent” category have had none or very few red critical violations, restaurants in the “Good” category have had some red critical violations and restaurants in the “Okay” category have had many red critical violations. Restaurants in the “Needs to Improve” category have either been closed by Public Health within the last year or required multiple return inspections to fix food safety practices.
The new ratings will be rolled out in phases over 2017, so it may be a while before diners see signs in the area.
See www.kingcounty.gov/depts/health for more.