The Jefferson County Health Department plans to use a grant from the United States Food and Drug Administration to launch a retail food grading system by early 2023.
The Department of Health has received $159,130 in grant funds to be used by December 31, 2024, for the development and implementation of a retail food grading system that would categorize the cleanliness and safety of restaurants and other places that serve food like giving it an A or B, said health department environmental supervisor Nicole Thornton.
“The ABC system is quite recognizable, especially since local counties such as St. Louis already participate,” she said. “A large number of organizations and agencies across the United States are already using these filing systems, and they have been successful in bringing their facilities into compliance.
Thornton said there are many different systems, however. In addition to using letters, some use colors or emojis.
She said the Department of Health plans to start using the food grading system in January 2023 and implement it in all food facilities by the end of this year.
Then the agency will use 2024 to collect data and make sure the new system is working properly.
She said the county has about 1,000 food establishments that the Department of Health inspects once or more a year.
Thornton said places like convenience stores are inspected once a year and restaurants are inspected at least three times a year.
Public Information Officer Brianne Zwiener said the Department of Health also follows up on complaints it receives, but the actions taken in response to those complaints vary depending on the severity.
She said a health department employee could call the facility, stop in for a quick check, or perform a full inspection.
Thornton said right now the Department of Health is issuing violations for things like parasites; improper storage or refrigeration; and unsanitary conditions.
“There’s a priority violation, a base violation, and a priority base violation,” she said. “Your priority (violations) are obviously more your concerns. These are the ones that can usually lead to any type of foodborne illness.
Thornton said a basic violation could be a backdoor that doesn’t close completely or a hole in a wall. A priority violation could be a pest infestation.
She said that currently there is no quick and easy way for the public to find out about violations in restaurants or other facilities other than to ask the Department of Health for a copy of the reports. inspection.
Zwiener said anyone can request a facility’s inspection reports by calling the Department of Health at 636-797-3737.
She said the Department of Health hopes to make these reports available online by the end of this summer.
Thornton said the Department of Health had already started working on a scoring system but had not yet decided what kind of system it would use.
Thornton said once the agency has a draft of the food classification system, the Department of Health plans to ask the public what they think of the whole system and its specific parts.
“We don’t want this to just be a decision of the Ministry of Health,” she said. “We want to consider our business owners, restaurants, managers and consumers.”
Zwiener said there is no current timeline for the release of the survey.
Thornton said the USDA grant funds will cover the cost of updating the software, printing documents on the new system, and paying for a part-time employee.
She said the Department of Health is currently interviewing candidates for the position, who will likely pay around $19 an hour.
Thornton said the main reason for adopting a grading system is to protect the public against foodborne illnesses, such as norovirus, salmonella, clostridium perfringens, campylobacter and staphylococcus aureus (staphylococcus). .
“I think we can also hold establishments a little more accountable for their compliance, but also reward those who consistently follow the food code,” she said.
Thornton said a rating system also adds a level of transparency.
“It’s going to give (customers) a little idea, a little glimpse of what this kitchen will look like every time we inspect it,” she said.