Friday, June 26, 2009

What Do You Say About Health Code Violations?

Mrs. HowChow wants to see an "A" outside every restaurant where she goes to eat.

California has a health inspection system that puts a large letter on the window of every place that sells food. It's a grade for cleanliness. An "A" is the best. A "B" might work for a hole-in-the-wall. But they're rare in my brief experience, and you're going to need some special cuisine to lure Mrs. HowChow inside. Below that, I think my former Angeleno would cross the street to avoid a place rated "C" -- if they can stay open at all.

I was thinking about this letter system because we passed through Los Angeles on Monday, and I had just posted about Hunan Manor. It's a Columbia institution, but Channel 2 reports that it also has a history of health code violations listing mice and roaches. On the one hand, I don't write a free blog to smack around local businesses. But on the other, people know about these violations, and they probably should know more.

A local guy Fred Tancordo has been pushing the Howard County Health Department to pursue and publicize violations. Tancordo, a retired USDA inspector, has been writing up problems that he sees at places like the Lotte supermarket in Ellicott City. He wants the county to be more aggressive and to share more information. You can search your favorite restaurants on the Howard County Heath Department's Web site, but I agree with Tancordo that the site offers little useful information. The list of establishments closed this year still says "Coming Soon," and I couldn't figure how to see the inspection reports. The county seems to list the places that it inspected in the past 30 days, but I can't see the actual results.

Do you think this stuff matters? Why doesn't Howard County want us to know their findings? Is there some reason not to assume that, in this day and age, it takes conscious effort to have such a skeletal Web site? Anyone know how to get the information?


nuttyturnip said...

I grew up in North Carolina, and as long as I can remember, they have required restaurants to post a letter grade in plain sight. It was a small town, so the newspaper would publish a story anytime a popular eatery dropped below an A. It was good incentive for places to stay clean, and it's always bugged me that they don't do the same in Maryland.

John G. Boyle said...

If the County can do it, I'd be all for it.

Anonymous said...

I'm actually quite surprised that the information isn't more readily available here in Maryland. I'm with Mrs. HowChow on this one. When I lived in Albuquerque the restaurants displayed either a red or green sticker at the restaurant. A nice play on the local chile obsession, it made it really easy to quickly determine where we did and did not eat.

Anonymous said...

Its interesting that the web site use to be more useful. Its also interesting that one of the local Howard County papers used (5 years ago or so) carry serious violation issues. I guess its important to conceal hazardous health information from the public.