Understanding grub grades for L.A. County

A few Santa Monica College students noticed the hanging “B” grade nestled between the wall and a refrigerator at Eat Street, an eatery within the school's cafeteria. Concerns were raised regarding the safety of their products, but the procedure of the letter grades themselves remains a mystery to most.

The Corsair’s investigation of the “B” grade prompted the Health Department inspector to come in to reinspect Eat Street a week ahead of schedule.

After the two-hour evaluation, the inspector awarded Eat Street with an “A.”

The new sign was hung on the back wall, clearly visible to patrons walking into the restaurant.

According to Victor Cardet, the general manager of Eat Street who has been working at the eatery since it first opened in August 2010, it had received the “B” because an empty cooler that was on site needed repair.

Though it was not plugged in, the Health Department looks at all equipment as being the owners responsibility, so if the machine is on that particular property and belongs to the establishment, it needs to be fully functioning.

This caused a six-point deduction, resulting in a total score of 88, after receiving an A on their previous two inspections.

“We were given a certain time period to fix the equipment for a re-inspection, in this case 10 days. We did in fact get the equipment fixed within the allotted 10 days.

However, once you elect to accept a rating, you must wait until the next cycle to be re-evaluated,” said Cardet.

Los Angeles County Department of Public Health requires that all food service estab-lishments,located within the unincorporated portions of L.A. County be inspected by the Environmental Health program and awarded grade placards to be displayed prominently, notifying the public of the restaurant’s current safety record.

A grade is issued to each facility at the end of a routine inspection, which automatically begins at 100 points, or an “A.”

To determine a facility’s grade, the health inspector must add the accumulated point deductions of the marked violation categories and subcategories, and then subtract the total from 100 points.

“If someone is storing food in a refrigerator that is not operating at the right temperature, or if we find the facility has a cockroach or mouse infestation, which is a major deduction, then points are deducted," said Angelo J. Bellomo, Director of Environmental Health for Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

"Infestations or food temperature problems are considered major violations and require six-point deductions," said Bellomo. "Minor violations result in one-point deductions. So if a restaurant is found to have two major violations, or one major and five minor violations, the score would go below 90 points, and they will receive a grade of 'B.'”

Grades “A” through “C” are given to facilities with generally superior, good, or acceptable food handling practices and overall food facility maintenance.

If the point deductions lead to a grade lower than a “C,” the facility will instead receive a scorecard, which will indicate the total points allotted.

The grading methodology is the same throughout the Los Angeles area, and inspectors are trained to ensure consistency in grading.

Several of the 58 counties in California perform restaurant grading, but many do not.

If one were to go to other parts of California, a letter grade at the entrance of a restaurant may very well not be displayed; but in such cases, you could simply ask for a copy of the most recent inspection report.

Though conditions were not necessarily unsanitary at Eat Street's inspection that led to the “B,” customers who had noticed the sign became skeptical.

“When someone looks at a letter grade of B, they assume that something is wrong with the food or its delivery," said Cardet. "In our case, our grade was a 94, an A Grade. Then we had a six-point deduction. This six-point deduction placed us in a B category with a final score of 88.”

Eat Street assures its customers of safe products and the serving of certified produce.

Regarding the recent outbreak of Listeria, a bacteria found present in cantaloupes, Eat Street will be serving melons grown and certified in California, since the danger stems from those that have originated in Colorado.

“I would not be overly concerned about a 'B' in a restaurant window,” said Bellomo. “But if you see a restaurant that over time consistently receives a grade of 'A,' it's probably an indication that the owner or operator, and food handlers pay greater attention to compliance with food safety standards than do those restaurants receiving 'Bs' and 'Cs.'”