May 1, 2014

Outside Chambana, posting placards is voluntary

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The photo illustration shows examples of health inspection compliance posters required to be prominently displayed in food establishments within the Champaign-Urbana city limits. The posters indicate to the public the results of the latest health inspection. The Champaign County Board struck down the proposal in an 11-9 vote to expand the mandate throughout the county.

The photo illustration shows examples of health inspection compliance posters required to be prominently displayed in food establishments within the Champaign-Urbana city limits. The posters indicate to the public the results of the latest health inspection. The Champaign County Board struck down the proposal in an 11-9 vote to expand the mandate throughout the county.

Anyone entering the Culver’s on Neil Street in Champaign will immediately see a placard showing the results of the restaurant’s most recent food inspection.

Drive one mile south to the Burger King in Savoy, and there is no placard displayed.

Since Jan. 1, food establishments within Champaign and Urbana have been required to display these placards after a unanimous vote by the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District’s Board of Health in November.

The Champaign County Board struck down the proposed law in a 11-9 vote. As a result, facilities outside Champaign-Urbana but within Champaign County are not required to post inspection placards.

Outgoing Champaign County Board Chair Al Kurtz , who owned a local restaurant, voted for the placard system in the county.  Kurtz also sits on the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District Board.

Kurtz, who lost re-election in March for his county seat, owned a Blimpie submarine sandwich shop for 11 years, according to his campaign website.

He did not return calls or emails seeking comment.

One-third of the 73 businesses inspected outside Champaign-Urbana from January through March,  do not voluntarily post placards, said Jim Roberts, director of environmental health at the Champaign Urbana Public Health District.

“What concerned me, as I mentioned to the board, was that of the 25 that were not posting, nine of them belonged to groups I thought consumer demand would ask for posting,” Roberts said.

He said some of these businesses were associated with schools, daycares, nursing homes and retirement villages.

Roberts said Champaign County did not have plans to mandate the placard system.

The members of the County Board who voted in favor of the system are currently trying to convince the remaining members to take their side on the issue.

“We are … trying to get a few of the ‘no’ votes to realize the importance of this program,” said Josh Hartke, one of 12 Democrats on the County Board.

Burger King and Buffalo Wild Wings are two restaurants in Savoy that do not display inspection placards. .

“It’s based on the health department,” said Nick Carter, a manager at Burger King who said he does what the health department tells him to do.

Applebee’s in Savoy has its inspection placard displayed in the foyer where customers wait to be seated.

Manager Kenneth Brien said the restaurant was under the impression that it was required to display the placard. After learning that displaying the placard is optional for food establishments outside Champaign-Urbana, the general manager and Applebee’s Corporation said they are considering removing it.

“I personally don’t like them,” said Brien.

Brien said he is not against displaying inspection results but that the placard in its current location takes away from the restaurant’s decor. If it were up to him, he would remove it.

Though the placard remains up, it will not be replaced with a new one following the next inspection, Brien said.

Roberts said Brien is not the only one who feels that way.

“Most of [the] concerns have been on the placard location and the time frame for a re-inspection, if required,” said Roberts.

However, many cities across the nation, including those in Vermillion County, have required for years that inspection results be posted in restaurant windows.

During routine inspections or when investigating a consumer complaint, health officials check to make sure restaurants in Champaign-Urbana are correctly displaying their inspection placard in the location decided on by the health inspector.

However, some are not doing so. For example, Soma in downtown Champaign has its placard placed behind a frosted glass window, so it is unreadable.

Incorrect display of a placard is a violation of the Food Sanitation Ordinance. If needed, the district’s board of health will decide on a specific number of days that restaurants will be given to correctly display the placard before having their health permit revoked.

According to the Champaign-Urbana Food Sanitation Ordinance, the Inspection Notice placards can be one of three colors, depending on the status of the facility, as determined by the health officer. Green indicates “satisfactory compliance,” yellow indicates “re-inspection required” and red indicates that the health officer has determined that the establishment should be closed.

The placards are issued to a food establishment by the health inspector and can only be removed by the health officer.

Roberts said food inspections in Champaign-Urbana are very similar to inspections of facilities elsewhere in Champaign County.

“Both jurisdictions use the same food code, same inspectors and same inspection process but have different jurisdiction ordinances,” said Roberts.

The Champaign County Public Health Department and the Champaign-Urbana Health District work together.

“Rather than creating a separate health department, we are contractually in a contract with CUPHD to provide services to the residents of the county through the health district,” said Dr. Krista Jones, president of the Champaign County Board of Health. “That way, there is less overhead and less expenditures, and we can also most effectively utilize our resources.”

Food establishments within Champaign-Urbana currently make up 70 percent of the food establishments in all of Champaign County, said Roberts.

What concerns Hartke is the difficulty of dealing with two different sectors – the county board of health and the public health district –  that both have jurisdiction within Champaign County.

“This is not a long-term sustainable situation,” said Hartke. “Luckily, the cities of Champaign and Urbana are more responsible and responsive to the needs of their dining public.

“I believe it is important for citizens to have clear and easy access to the results of public health inspections. It is essential for people to be able to make clear choices about what kind of restaurants they want to eat in.”