Champaign County Restaurants Fail Inspections
(Reported by Pam G. Dempsey of CU-CitizenAccess)
Public health officials continue to give failing scores to restaurants in Champaign County each month, but after more than three years of study they still have not decided how to make those inspections routinely public.
Most recently, Champaign County Board of Health members said they wanted to wait for a national food protection group to issue recommendations after it met in Indianapolis in April. The recommendations would have guided health officials on how to make inspections public.
But Jim Roberts, who heads the inspection program in Champaign County, said that no clear guidance came out of that meeting and county officials are again considering the options of posting the full inspection reports in the restaurants and online.
Unlike most counties, the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District does not do either. They also do not require restaurants and food-related service industries to post inspection scores or any sort of letter grade at their establishments.
Currently, CU-CitizenAccess.org, a digital newsroom, posts the reports on restaurants that fail inspections after having to make freedom of information requests each month.
Champaign county officials also are discussing posting placards in restaurants that give the phone of number of the Public Health District if a customer has a complaint or placards that would let customers know that they can ask for a full inspection report from the restaurant.
Stan James, who serves on the county board of health, said, "We continue to look at it [the issue] in a way to let Champaign County residents know how their restaurants are doing."
One hesitation in making restaurant inspection results more public could be a symptom of living in a smaller community, he said.
"We have to get out of the mindset that it's offending somebody because basically we're doing our job," James said.
Posting a score or letter-grade could be a good tool, he said.
"I think it's something that to me as a business person myself, is something that you could point to and say, look, I'm doing good," James said. "I'm meeting what's required of me by law and I think it would help everybody and other states, other counties other places that had this , I just hope our county would start embracing it a little bit more."
Throughout Illinois and the country it is common for restaurants to have to post their grades or scores and many communities post inspections online.
For example, the McClean County Health Department has posted its restaurant inspection scores online for over a decade. Vermilion County Health Department requires its restaurants to post both its inspection score and letter grade in a conspicuous place.
Members of both the Champaign County Board of Health and the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District Board of Health said they are looking for direction from county health district staff on how to best publicize inspection information.
Suggestions have included posting the full inspection report instead of a score or letter grade, which critics said give limited information and are a snapshot that can change on a day-to-day basis.
"Personally I'm not in favor of posting the whole report I'm really not because I just don't see that as something that very few people are going to look like or even want to take the time today when you're waiting in line to get a table," James said. "But I think a grading system of some sort has to be fair, I think as we move along and I'm hoping, I am hoping, that we come up with something like that."
Five restaurants failed their health inspections between March and May of this year.
For Geovanti's Bar and Grill, 401 E. Green St. in Urbana, it was the fifth failure in a row and one that netted the restaurant an immediate suspension.
The restaurant scored an "8" on a routine inspection on March 13. Scores below 35 are considered failing and scores below 0 warrant an immediate closure until the health code violations are corrected.
The restaurant had to meet several requirements for re-instatement, "because your establishment's performances during routine inspections have demonstrated a lack of day-to-day basis managerial control of violations associated with foodborne illness," according to a March 19 letter to owner Anthony Donato from the public health district.
Those requirements include additional staff certified in food service sanitation, developing a basic food safety system and restricting the menu to match the equipment in the facility. The staff was thawing frozen chicken in the sink that was intended for dishwashing.
The restaurant was re-inspected on March 23 and received a score of "87"; subsequently, its permit was re-instated and the restaurant was allowed to operate. The Bangkok Thai Restaurant at 1333 Savoy Plaza in Savoy scored a "24" on its April 16 health inspection.
During the inspection, critical violations were either corrected or in the process of being corrected and the restaurant was not required to close. It was set for a re-inspection. But during a re-inspection on May 15, the restaurant scored a "-25" and its health permit was suspended, meaning the restaurant could not serve food.
It was re-inspected on May 18 and scored a "79", at which time its health permit was reinstated and it was allowed to serve food.
Another Savoy restaurant, Star Karoke, located at 1503 Lyndhur Street Alley received a -6 on its April 18 inspection and was immediately closed. After the restaurant scored a 50 on its re-inspection, it was allowed to reopen on April 19.
The Courier Café, located at 111 N. Race St. in Urbana was shut down on March 26 for an inspection score of "-17" for violations that include employees observed not washing hands before and between glove use or between tasks and foods stored at warmer temperatures than mandated by code. The restaurant was allowed to reopen on March 27 after an inspection score of "79".
Woori Jib, located at 710 S. Sixth St. in Champaign, was closed on April 24 after the restaurant scored a "-3" on its inspection report. It subsequently scored a "91" on the re-inspection.