The county’s restaurant inspection system functions relatively well but its website needs work, including more timely posting of results and ensuring the information is complete and accurate, according to a new civil grand jury report.
The jury also recommends using window placards to display inspection status and fining businesses that don’t clearly post the most recent inspection results.
For its report “Food Safety: Increasingly in the News,” the grand jury looked at the inspection process itself and how the resulting information is posted on the Environmental Health Department’s website. The goal was learning if county inspectors are doing their job and if county diners can count on posted information to help avoid potential health hazards.
The investigation comes nearly a year after the county’s health department in July 2013 shelved its previous system of automatically inspecting every facility three times annually and adopted voluntary national standards which include yearly inspection counts based on risk. For instance, a coffee shop would be inspected at least once while schools merit two inspections and full-service restaurants and those with susceptible populations like the elderly call for three.
In 2013, the county inspected more than 4,400 facilities and conducted 8,600 on-site service calls. Of those, 26 food establishments were closed anywhere from a few hours to permanently for major code violations posing health risks. The information is posted on the environmental health department’s website for public access but the jury stated in its report that it may contain outdated or even inaccurate information. As an example, the jury cited two restaurants closed for failing to correct major violations. Both were listed on the “food facility closure” page but individual searches of the restaurants by name don’t bring up the actions.
“We’re very pleased that the grand jury acknowledged the inspection process that’s now in place in San Mateo County,” Heather Forshey, environmental health services director, said in a prepared statement. “We agree that the website needs improvement and have been working on the inspection report content in addition to online delivery of inspection reports. We are now in the process of rolling out new software and field laptops to inspection staff for quick uploads to the website.”
The jury recommends creating by Dec. 31, 2014, an auditing process for the website and bulking it up with a synopsis for each establishment of any violation, latest inspection date and type and food safety rating.
The jury also found that only half a half of businesses actually post a copy of the most recent inspection report as required. Amongst its recommendations, the jury suggested that fines be levied on these businesses after the first re-inspection rather than the third.
Civil grand jury reports carry no legal weight but recipients must respond in writing within 90 days. In this instance, the responder is the Board of Supervisors.
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