BLOOMINGTON — Changes in the state’s restaurant inspection scoring system have McLean County Health Department employees spending twice as much time in local restaurants on routine food inspections.
“Consumers will be able to get a lot more detail from the inspection if they are into the nitty-gritty of it,” said Linda Foutch, the food program supervisor at the health department. The department publishes the finalized reports online, and The Pantagraph publishes edited versions.
More thorough inspections and new reporting forms from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are placing more emphasis on violations that can cause food-borne illnesses and identifying control measures to eliminate risk factors.
“It’s a major difference in the formatting,” Foutch said. “The scoring system that was previously used is now gone. The main focus is on the number of violations a restaurant has.”
Inspections are done one to four times per year to rate how successfully a restaurant meets food handling, storage, processing and service standards on a given day. Those factors still are being considered, but inspectors are placing more emphasis on identifying reasons behind a noted risk.
Bob Groetken, owner of Schooner’s at 810 E. Grove St. in Bloomington, said his restaurant was last evaluated in November and hasn’t experienced the new system yet.
“I have had discussions with the inspectors about it, but really, as a restaurant, we are not going to change anything,” he said. “We are always ready for any inspection at any given time, and always do fine. As long as you are doing what you are supposed to be doing, there is nothing to worry about.”
Still, Foutch has concerns about restaurants with multiple owners or chain restaurants.
“It’s inconvenient for the inspectors and it’s inconvenient for the owners and managers of restaurants,” she said. “In some instances where we might previously take two hours in one of our bigger restaurants, it might take four hours now, and that has an impact on the restaurant because we don’t want to be in their way during their peak business hours.”
There will be changes for consumers who view the health department’s restaurant inspection scores as well. In the past, a weighted system was used, and after each inspection, the restaurant received an overall score based on points for violations being deducted from a perfect starting score of 100.
The weighted score will not be used, and now each violation will be noted.
“Nothing has changed in the fact that we advise consumers to look at trends,” Foutch said. “The same goes for now. Follow the trends.”
Lisa Slater, communications specialist with the health department, said the changes have not appeared on the department’s public inspection form as of yet.
“Things on our website will look different,” she said. "We are working very hard to make everything understandable and get everyone the info they want to make decisions on their choices.”
The Illinois Department of Public Health supplied county health departments with the new forms. The top half of each form lists main risk factors and the interventions for those risk factors. Noncritical violations are listed on the bottom half of the form.
Violations included in the 29 risk factors range from supervision — whether the person in charge demonstrates knowledge of proper food handling procedures and performs duties satisfactorily — to ensuring that food additives are properly identified, stored and used.
There are 28 “good retail practices,” classified as preventative measures to control food safety. Those range from using safe food and water from an approved source to ensuring that all food employees have the proper food handler training.
Because of the extra time being spent, it is unclear whether inspectors will still be able to make that goal if they are spending extra time at each facility.
“We are all pretty stressed right now,” Foutch said. “Hopefully once the process gets a little streamlined and we are more accustomed to it, things will speed up. But it is taking extra time right now.”