The Orange County Board of Supervisors has rejected their own health department and grand jury’s recommendations that Orange County restaurants adopt either a color coded system or a letter-grade system to let consumers know how their establishment scored on their last inspection. According to this news report in The Orange County Register, county supervisors voted down the changes saying that they could burden restaurant owners with added costs during this period of economic crisis. Supervisors also said the county’s existing system is “doing a good job” at protecting local diners safe from food borne illnesses.
What was this big financial burden on the restaurants as a result of these changes? It would have increased the payment by no more than $7 a year for the biggest restaurants! It is a shame that the supervisors voted against both a color-coded and a letter grade system. As an Orange County personal injury attorney who has represented numerous victims of food borne illnesses over the years, I know that the current system of displaying inspection placards outside the restaurant has been woefully inadequate when it comes to preventing food borne illnesses. A color-coded or letter-grade system would definitely have been more effective and user-friendly.
Over the last two years or so, we have seen the largest outbreaks of food-borne illness in our country’s history. Some of the contaminated products have included lettuce, spinach, beef, chicken, peanut butter and even candy. Salmonella and e-coli infections have seriously sickened and even killed many across the country. To say that $7 a year would burden these restaurants is extremely inconsiderate on the part of a board that was elected to serve the residents of Orange County.
Consider these numbers. An Orange County Register investigation recently found more than 20,000 major food safety violations in 2007 – ranging from lack of hot water to vermin infestations – in some of Orange County’s 13,173 restaurants, supermarkets, convenience stores and other food venues. The Register also reported that many restaurants with numerous violations operated without the public even knowing about the poor health inspection scores.
It’s time the Orange County Board of Supervisors put public safety first. Food safety is an important issue and often overlooked. I know of clients who may not have walked into a restaurant and gotten sick had they known about the number of violations that restaurant had. Lack of knowledge is a dangerous thing and that a county board of supervisors is refusing to empower the public with information they need to know, is simply shameful.