It’s been a year since the Naugatuck Valley Health District (NVHD) stared using a food rating system that aims to give a clearer picture of sanitary measures and rating scores in local restaurants.
“I think it’s been a positive,” said David Rogers, the NVHD’s assistant director for environmental health.
Under the new system, a sanitarian inspects the restaurant and posts a certificate near the entrance showing a rating that could be excellent, good, fair or poor. The certificate also shows the rating of the previous inspection.
Under the old system, restaurants received a numerical score, such as an 80 or 90, which could be difficult to interpret.
“We found there was great variation,” Rogers said. “Some restaurants with a score in the mid-80s got good ratings, and others with a 90 received a fair rating.
“We’re trying to de-emphasize the numerical,” he said. “It doesn’t give the public an accurate description of how [the restaurants] are doing.”
Posting a rating certificate is a benefit to the dining public, according to health district officials. “They assume a place is safe,” said Karen Spargo, NVHD health director.
Rating must be displayed
Technically, restaurant owners can have a license suspended if they don’t display the document.
If restaurant customers don’t see the rating certificate posted, they should ask the restaurant staff about it or call the NVHD — which serves Shelton and five other towns — at 203-881-3255.
People may select a town to view the local restaurants organized by rating at nvhd.org.
If a restaurant receives a poor rating, “they have to send us a request for reinspection and send us a description of how they corrected the violation,” Rogers said.
“We look for them to make the corrections and sustain them, so at the next regular inspection, they will have improved,” Spargo said. “If there is a serious violation or if it continues over time, sometimes we will have to close a restaurant.”
The district sees itself as a positive force in working with restaurants on compliance issues. “We will consult and educate,” Spargo said.
Who is rated by the system
The rating system applies to restaurants in Class 3 and 4, which are establishments that serve hot foods.
They’re rated three or four times a year, based on the presence or absence of risk factor violators determined by the state of Connecticut’s public health code, Rogers said.
The risk factors that the state determines are most closely associated with food-borne illnesses are listed on new inspection forms.
Risk factors include, but aren’t limited to, maintaining product temperature, protecting food during storage, food handling, and restricting personnel with infectious diseases.
If items don’t comply, they must be corrected by a specific re-inspection date.
In addition to helping customers understand inspection scores, the new rating system aims to help restaurant owners or managers.
“Now they’re forced to read the report and understand how to make corrections,” Rogers said. “Sanitarians like it because restaurants are paying attention and trying to address what they’re doing in correcting the violations.”
Assessing the impact
About five or six of the state’s 70 health districts have instituted similar rating systems, according to Rogers. New York City also has a similar system, and that city “has seen improvement,” he said.
“We need another year to assess the impact,” Spargo said, and the NVHD plans to conduct a study on changes brought about by the new system.
The NVHD rating system was approved by the health district’s board of directors, discussed at a public hearing, and became part of the organization’s health code.
The Naugatuck Valley Health District provides public health services and programs to Shelton, Ansonia, Beacon Falls, Derby, Naugatuck and Seymour.