Another reader of northjersey.com -- a former restaurateur -- has commented on The Record of Woodland Park's decision to drop restaurant health ratings (see previous post):
Friday December 3, 2010, 4:42 PM - JuliaEnerson says:
I think this is a perfect opportunity for The Record to educate its readers about "what's behind those health inspection ratings", instead of not publishing them. True, the reports to The Record don't indicate why an establishment got a Conditional; however, neither does the placard in an establishment have anything other than the rating - up front. Any customer at any time can request to read the REHS' report and the establishment must have it readily available (usually kept in the frame with the rating). Also, an establishment should be proactive in explaining to its clientele what may have been the reason behind a less than Satisfactory rating. At the same time, a conditional is "the first violation of State Health laws" and does not include GROSS violations, such as vermin infestation, which usually call for either voluntary shut-down or a court-order mandate. Most conditionals are due to refrigeration temps, often off by one degree and easily fixed for the subsequent reinspection. I've always been more concerned about the 'conditional on reinspection' establishments, and Unsatisfactory is a no brainer. As a former restaurant owner (and yes, I got a conditional just once - and for the aforementioned refrigeration temp off), I think The Record should continue to publish Health Inspection reports AND explain in more detail what the ratings mean AND add "If you have specific concerns or questions about an establishment listed here, please contact them directly."
The newspaper has always regarded health inspections as unimportant, and for years ran the list far from restaurant reviews and restaurant advertising.
The job of assembling it was left to a news clerk, who worked from faxes sent in by health departments, many of which refused to cooperate.
But the health ratings are important to any reader who eats out regularly, and they serve to keep restaurant owners honest.
Head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes should have directed municipal reporters to visit health officials in towns that didn't send in the ratings and pick up the inspection reports. And if necessary, the newspaper should have sued towns that refused to supply the information, citing the open public records law.