To grade or not to grade
Environmental health division staff weighs in at national conference
LAS VEGAS – Step into a local food establishment and one of the first items visible is a health district inspection grade card. An "A" grade is good, a "B" less so. A health district inspector uses specific food safety criteria to review the facility’s food handling practices with demerit scoring related to the risk of foodborne illness (FBI). Simple. Right? Maybe not. The topic of grading and scoring food establishments versus a pass/fail system was debated at the Association of Food & Drug Officials annual conference in June.
Some locales use a pass/fail inspection system for food establishments. Others, like the health district, use a grading and scoring system. Rose Henderson, Southern Nevada Health District environmental health manager for the food inspection program, participated in the panel discussion and supports the grading and scoring system.
The Southern Nevada Health District has operated with the grading and scoring system for 30-plus years. Revisions have been implemented to refine the grading process, most recently in 2013 with the THINK RISK Initiative, when there was an increased focus on the five major Risk Factors associated FBI as identified by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Items on the food establishment inspection form directly relate to control of these risk factors, such as proper personal hygiene, maintaining safe food temperatures and protection of food from contamination. Food establishment inspection information is available on the health district’s website: www.snhd.info/restaurants.
"The grading system is quantifiable and provides a mechanism for prompt and verified correction of food safety violations. It provides consumers with more information than a pass/fail system," said Henderson. "The regulations have a specific timeframe for correction of food safety violations as well as consequences for ongoing noncompliance. Few food facilities want to remain on a downgrade for even a short period of time so they are motivated to correct food safety violations and schedule reinspection even sooner than regulation dictates. Such a recognizable and expedient system reduces the probability of foodborne illness."
With a pass/ fail system, consumers may have no indication about what infractions were identified during an inspection. The health district’s food inspection program issues demerits that are directly related to risk of FBI (critical violations) or associated with a contributing factor to foodborne illness risk (major violations).
Routine inspections are unannounced and grade cards are issued directly following an inspection. Depending upon the violation, when a facility receives a downgrade, a food establishment must mitigate a risk on the spot or at least within a 15 day business period with reinspection conducted. Food establishments must earn an A grade during a reinspection or face further downgrade or even closure if critical and major violations persist. Demerits are issued based on violations identified during an inspection:
A 0-10 demerits
B 11-20 demerits
C 21-40 demerits
Closure 41 or more demerits or an imminent health hazard is identified