There's been talk of this over on DCist, and over at the City Paper's City Desk. Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh plans to introduce legislation implementing a letter-grade system for restaurant cleanliness. This would be similar to the system they have in Los Angeles, which I am only familiar with because of The Shield. A similar idea is in the works in New York City, as well.
There's been little "official" response to this, as they story has not received a whole lot of media attention yet. I think it's safe to say that most residents/restaurant patrons will welcome this, and most restaurant owners will not. I'm going to echo a few concerns, and I'm curious what people here think.
The first main argument against this is that the city can't possibly have enough inspectors to make this work. Also, the system is most likely already so corrupt, that anyone with enough money can just purchase an "A" grade. If, and a big if, it would be possible to accurately inspect all food serving establishments with a decent frequency, then I think this could be a good idea. Right now, you can go into a restaurant and you have no idea what the last inspection found, and you wouldn't have a clue if the restaurant had just reopened after a 2 week closure for rat feces in the kitchen.
Example, did you know the Johnny Rockets in Georgetown has been closed before because of rats? Well, if you eat at Johnny Rockets, I assume you have no concern for your health (or money), but that's just one example. You'd expect the Popeye's on 14th (Logan Circle) to have been cited for rats (it has been), but you might not expect some of the others.
Restaurants will cry foul, that a poor letter grade could come from just one bad day, and would destroy their business. This is true, a poor letter grade would, most likely, cost them many customers. However, I'm appaled by this idea that a restaurant should get a pass for having "one bad day." If it's an issue such as the hot water was out for one day, then perhaps. But most other problems are not so temporary... I don't think you see many cases of a 24 hour-only rat infestation. One bad day is enough for people to get sick, so it should be enough to get you a bad grade. The caveat here, though, is that if restaurants must display these letter grades, there should be enough inspectors to allow a re-inspection after a drop in grade.
Do you think this is a bad time to be doing this? Should we let things slide as we fall into recession?
For some good information on food safety, check out The Barf Blog.
Posted by Dave Stroup at 1:25 PM