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County restaurant inspection reports will soon be online

By: Gloria Young Gold Country News Service
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How clean is your favorite Roseville restaurant? Currently, if you want to know, you’ll have to ask to see a copy of the inspection report. According to Jill Pahl, Placer County environmental health services director, restaurants are required to make the most recent inspection report available to patrons who request to see them. But come summer, residents will be able to access all Placer County restaurants’ inspections reports online. “We keep files on all restaurants that have their previous inspection reports some go back to when the place first opened,” Pahl said. “A lot of people don’t request them, I think partly because they’re not interested and part because it’s uncomfortable to ask in a restaurant and inconvenient to come to our office.” In Placer County, restaurants must post a notice that the inspection has been completed and the report is available to patrons. Other counties in the state, including Sacramento, have developed a grading system and restaurants are required to post their “grade” prominently. “The staffing and manpower to do that in Placer County just isn’t where local governments are headed in this economy,” Pahl said. “At this time we don’t have plans to switch to a grading scale, we think the online report database will be appealing to our residents.” Placer County has 10 inspectors who are charged with visiting all food retail facilities including supermarkets. “We make it out to each facility at last once a year,” Pahl said. “If there are any major violations or if they have more than two minor violations, we’ll do a re-inspection. For a major violation, we’ll do it fairly quickly.” The visits, which usually last about an hour, focus on food temperatures, vector issues (rats, insect infestation), cleanliness and employee health and hygiene practices. Eateries hit with major violations such as infestations, refrigeration and hot-water-heater malfunctions must make the fixes immediately. “If they can’t remedy it right away or don’t choose to comply on their own, they may be closed by us,” Pahl said. Food-handling facilities pay an annual fee for the inspections and there are additional charges if inspectors must revisit in the case of major violations. Inspectors arrive equipped with several types of thermometers, including infrared, to gauge compliance. They also bring along disinfectants, flashlights — “a bag full of stuff,” Pahl said. The biggest emphasis — and the area most frequently cited — is food temperatures. Food temperatures — handling and processing — in heating and cooldown are the biggest predictors of food-borne illness, Pahl said. It’s more than keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold, she explained. “If they have a pot of beans that has been sitting more than four hours, they need to throw it out,” she said. “(For cool down), you’d want to split it up and put it into different containers … so the refrigerator isn’t overwhelmed. It’s the same with warming. You want them to be heated in sufficient time. At the same time, (the restaurant) has to have something that is appealing and good.” As part of ensuring compliance, each restaurant must have someone trained and certified in food health and safety issues. The county and the Placer Adult School have training programs to obtain the certification. “The majority of restaurants are doing their job,” Pahl said. “Occasionally, those that are doing their job need a little help.” The important thing to remember Pahl said, is that the inspection illustrates a point in time and not necessarily an ongoing issue. Her advice to frequent diners out? “Understand what you are comfortable with and look at a restaurant’s previous reports,” Pahl said. “Some days it may be just a fluke and it’s cleared up on the next report. If it’s a consistent issue, think to yourself how big of a risk it is that you’re taking by eating there.” But some residents wonder if publicizing the inspection reports will change the dynamic of dining out. “If it looks like a clean place to me I’m fine. I don’t need to know all the little details,” said Karen Smythe, a frequent patron of restaurants such as Tres Agaves and The Counter at The Fountains. “I think reports being online will turn some people off to dining out if they see even the smallest issue.” Molly Hawks, owner of Hawks restaurant in Granite Bay, said she’s not worried about her inspection results being available online, and says her kitchen’s commitment to cleanliness is evident to her patrons. “Half of our kitchen is open to view by the restaurant so people can clearly see our shiny pots and pans and how clean we keep things,” Hawks said. “In the years that we’ve been here, I’ve never been asked to see our inspection, even though it’s available to our customers. I don’t think it’s a concern of our patrons because they expect that level of cleanliness and it’s obvious when you walk in that we keep it very clean.” Megan Wood contributed to this report. ---------- Want to look up the health inspections of your favorite dine-in or dive? Inspection reports will be made available online this summer. Follow the link at Placer.ca.gov