Law changes mean the end of restaurant inspection scores

A change in policy regarding restaurant inspection reports in St. Clair County went into effect January of this year, a switch from the Illinois Food Service Sanitation Code to the FDA Food Code. 

The new code adopted by the county no longer issues numerical scores to restaurants based upon safety and cleanliness inspections. According to St. Clair County Health Department Director of Environmental Programs Sharon Valentine, the FDA Code is a detailed, written report based on the county’s inspection. 

Valentine said the county hasn’t changed its health regulations, they are only reported differently under the FDA Code. 

“The state of Illinois decided we would change from the Illinois Food Service Sanitation Code to the FDA Code because of the science behind the FDA Code,” Valentine said. “It’s updated every two years, so when we go to use the code, we don’t have to worry about it being out of date or no longer having the information we need.”

“The FDA Code is updated on a routine basis,” she said. “There is no longer a score.”

Valentine said restaurants could have the potential of two different sets of violations with the inspection. Within the inspection form, the top part is risk factors for food-borne illness and the bottom part are good retail practices. 

“There are 29 different items that are food-borne illness risk factors and public health interventions,” Valentine said. 

Valentine said the good retail practices are things needed to be corrected by restaurants within a period of time, while the food-borne illness risk factors and public health interventions need to be corrected while health inspectors are present at the facility. 

Per the good retail practices, Valentine gave the example of an individual or employee lacking proper certifications or training. 

“If the person that’s there at the establishment doesn’t have the proper certifications or the proper training, we’re going to give them 30 days to get that training,” she said. “Now it’s easy to do, you can get that training at a class or online and then take a proctored exam – but 30 days is sufficient to get enrolled, take the course and get that certification.”

“Scores gave the general public at a glance what we were seeing on that particular day,” Valentine said. “Now, what we have done because there is no score on the FDA Code inspection form, we have asked our restaurants to post that in public view.”

Valentine said the county began informing the public about the new FDA Code over a year ago so that people in restaurants had the opportunity to compare the code differences. 

“There are a lot more interactive questions when we come in and it’s more interactive with the restaurant than it actually was before,” she said. “It’s not something we can just run through and do very quickly. It takes a little bit more time now.”

“The actual violations are in a different place but they are basically the same type of violations that we had before.”

Valentine said the new FDA Code is helping both the restaurants and the public understand what actually causes food-borne illness and how it can be prevented. 

“It has a bigger education piece,” she said. 

According to Valentine, how often inspections take place depends on the restaurant and the food it serves. 

“Some facilities are inspected every four months, everybody is inspected every six months,” she said. 

“If they have food that is cooked, cooled and reheated then they are inspected every four months. If they just cook and serve, those are every six months,” Valentine said. “Unless there are complaints – then we will do those more often.” 

Valentine said restaurants in St. Clair County must have their health inspection report posted at their establishment. The general public can also request a copy of the food inspection from the county under the Freedom of Information Act as it is considered public record. 

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