A new way to choose restaurants: The health department rates restaurants’ health and safety on its Web site | SummitDaily.com

A new way to choose restaurants: The health department rates restaurants’ health and safety on its Web site

SUMMIT COUNTY – This time of the year, a lot of locals pick which restaurant to eat at based on the hottest two-for-one or early-bird special. But now there’s a new way to choose restaurants – by how safe it is to eat their food.

The Summit County environmental health department has been inspecting restaurants and other retail food distributors since 1988, but it just created a Web site that publishes those inspections and rates restaurant safety.

The lowest rating of any Summit County restaurant is four smiling chefs, one level below the best. In addition to the rating system, the public can read a list of violations the restaurant had during an inspection.

Environmental health officers rate businesses based on the average score of the last three regular inspections under the current ownership. If a restaurant hasn’t received three visits under the same owner, it will not appear on the Web site.

The scoring system assigns points to each type of violation during an inspection – the worst violations score the highest points. The Web site translates scores into a rating system of smiling chefs – five smiling chefs is the best.

“I really wanted to avoid assigning artificial and perhaps inaccurate labels on facilities,” said Jim Rada, environmental health director for Summit County. “The smiling chefs seemed to be a way to keep a positive slant on what can be seen as arbitrary by the restaurant industry. This system is based totally on the types of violations observed in a facility and the risks that those violations may present to public health.”

Rada hopes the Web site will benefit not only consumers, but also business owners.

“With the rating system focused on the most serious critical violations in a commercial establishment, the retail food industry can focus training and management efforts on significant food safety issues (and) protect consumers against food-borne illness while maintaining a high rating for their establishments.”

Last year, the health department completed 520 inspections. This year it only plans on completing 250 inspections, because budget cuts reduced the number of inspectors to one. That means the health department won’t visit all 310 of the food establishments in the county this year.

An online survey allows people to contact the health department with problems, questions and suggestions. Inspection reports are available at http://www.co.summit.co.us. (Click on “restaurant inspections,” scroll to the end of the page and click on “I understand.” From there, you can search by restaurant or town.)

Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 245 or by e-mail at knicoletti@summitdaily.com.

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