As health inspections change, departments debate enforcement

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Jim Roberts of the Champaign-Urbana Health District holds up a sample placard as county board members discussed whether restaurants in the county should be required to display inspection placards on August 21, 2014.

Local health officials inspect food service facilities for compliance across nearly four dozen health and safety items – including critical violations and risk factors.

With 1,284 food establishments within Champaign County, the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District conducts between 1,600 and 2,000 inspections every year. But later this year, those inspections will change.

Illinois has adopted the Food and Drug Administration’s most recent update to its Food Code, which was published in 2013, and has required all health departments to adopt the new code

The changes to the code were made to reflect violations that are more likely to make people sick, local health officials said. These include employees not being allowed to contact ready-to-eat foods with their bare hands and cut leafy greens now must be held at or below 41° F.

The new Illinois Uniform Scoring Guide proposes that health departments use two types of violations to penalize restaurants: risk factor violations (ones that are proven to make people sick) and repeat violations.

However, the guide is non-binding, and counties decide how to apply the code on a local level.

Initially, health departments were given until July to implement the code, although the state has extended that deadline until January 1, 2019. Champaign is still shooting for the original deadline, Roberts said.

“As far as I’m concerned, July 1 is the deadline,” Roberts said.

How the code will be enforced – including what violations indicate a failure or closure – is still pending.

Roberts said the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District and the Champaign County health board will hold a joint study session in late April to discuss how to implement the code.

The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District covers both the Champaign and Cunningham townships, essentially the borders of Champaign-Urbana. The county covers the rest.

Roberts said one item that will be discussed at the study session is the implementation of color-coded placards.

“We got feedback that generally people really like the placards,” Roberts said.

Currently, the health district conducts all inspections in the county through an intergovernmental agreement; however, only food establishments within Champaign-Urbana are required to post a color-coded placard denoting the results of a health inspection.

A green placard means the food establishment passed its inspection with a score of 36 or higher; a yellow placard means the food establishment failed its inspection with a score below 36 but is allowed to remain open and a red placard means the food establishment was closed for a score below zero or a violation that immediately threatened the health and safety of customers.

The placard system started in 2014. Food establishments outside of Champaign-Urbana are not required to post the placards, as the Champaign County Board voted down a resolution to do so over worries it would harm business owners.

But Roberts said the study session will help determine how the placards will be implemented under the new code since there is no scoring system.

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