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New system debuts for O.C. restaurants

October 1, 2009 12:04:09 AM PDT
Orange County is trying to make its restaurant rating system a little more user-friendly.Under the old system, you can't really tell from a distance how a restaurant did in its last inspection because the signs have small print and a lengthy explanation.

Officials have switched to signs that are more obvious. The signs will either say "pass," "reinspection due" or "closed."

The "reinspection due" sign will say "pass" underneath it, which means that the restaurant did have some violations, but can stay open. An inspector will come back to make sure that those violations have been corrected.

The "closed" seal is given when a dining facility has had major violations and is considered a health risk to the public if it stays open.

"We still think that this system is the best for an at-a-glance and a heads up, and it's very much simplified, either you pass or you don't," said Mike Haller, Orange County Health Care Agency.

The Orange County Board of Supervisors considered several rating systems, including letter grades like in L.A. County, but the "A-B-C" system would have required Orange County to give numerical value to violations, which they do not do.

Currently, Orange County just considers violations either a minor or a major violation. A major violation is one that can cause foodborne illness.

"Meat, milk and egg products, if left at room temperature, bacteria begins to multiply, and that can cause people to get sick, so you keep those products either refrigerated, or hot and ready to serve, typically below 40 degrees Fahrenheit or above 140 degrees Fahrenheit," said Richard Sanchez, Orange County Health Agency.

The Orange County Restaurant Association prefers the new system over the letter-grade method, saying they felt like anything other than an "A" would be a flunking grade.

Along with being less wordy, the new signs have larger print.

Some people say the change is an improvement, but they think the letter system is easier for people to understand.

Restaurants are inspected three times a year, and markets are inspected once a year.

The Orange County Health Care Agency said it will take about six months to inspect all 15,000 locations in Orange County.

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