While legislation that would require restaurants, eateries, and other places that sell food in the District to publicly post their health inspection letter grade might seem like a no-brainer for transparency types, including Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, who is pushing such an effort, it’s received a chilly reception thus far.
First, WUSA-TV’s Bruce Johnson delivered the news on Wednesday that At-Large Councilmember David Catania, who chairs the D.C. Council’s health committee, said Cheh’s bill was dead on arrival as far as he was concerned.
Then the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington chimed in today, noting that a similar version was introduced and died in 2009, “as this one should.” According to its statement:
This legislation mandates a simplistic letter grading system with the grade posted in the restaurant’s front window. The process of health inspections is a one-day snapshot that may or may not reflect the restaurant’s record of compliance with health regulations and does not truly reflect the risk of the establishment to the consumer. Without a significant infusion of funding to the DC Department of Health and additional inspection staff, it is highly unlikely that re-inspections will be done in a timely manner. The loser in this all too likely scenario is the restaurant… there are no winners.
The current food code regulations contain provisions for commending restaurants that consistently perform well in inspections – a positive reinforcement tool that any educator will tell you is more powerful than the threat of negative consequences such as is proposed by this legislation. Unfortunately, the commendation provisions which have been in place for many years are not used. Rather than simply having the Health Department follow its current regulations by implementing the commendation provisions, another layer of regulation is being proposed.
Also, current regulations provide for the posting of inspections online which gives the consumer a number of reports to gauge the record of performance of the establishment which is the much more realistic and fair reportage rather than letter grading. Last summer the DC Department of Health began posting the past three years of reports and will continue with a new digital system that gives consumers the information they need in an accessible form.
Cheh, meanwhile, is hopeful her legislation can move forward. In a statement, the councilmember says:
I think there’s a great benefit for the restaurants and for the residents and visitors of the District. I look forward to talking with the restaurant association and plan to meet with them soon. And, I think the entire public would benefit if and when we had a hearing on the bill.
Image of Councilmember Mary Cheh used via a Wikicommons Media license