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Eatery grades out in the open

New law requires Albany County restaurants to post health inspection results

— According to information from the county Health Department, inspections look at sanitation (cleanliness, hand washing areas, gloves, hairnets, storage areas, etc.); food preparation (cooking, freshness of food, food protected in storage, holding and cooling temperatures, refrigeration, etc.); and service and general facility issues (presence of valid permit, presence of vermin, floors/walls in disrepair or dirty, choking poster present, etc.).

Because so many aspects of the establishment and operation are analyzed, Rozak said the reasons for a specific rating can vary. That means just because a restaurant is classified “fair” doesn’t mean it’s hazardous to eat there, and just because a restaurant is called “excellent” doesn’t mean everything is perfect.

“There could be critical violations and non-critical violations. … There could be cleaning liquid or materials right next to where food is stored,” said Rozak. “It’s really a matter of trying to get everyone on the same page and saying we want everyone to be at excellent and that’s the standard that everyone should strive for.”

Restaurants that score an “excellent” can choose between two window notices to display. Restaurants that score “good” can schedule a re-inspection within two weeks to try to reach “excellent.” Restaurants that consistently fall under “fair” or “unsatisfactory” despite multiple re-inspections could be at risk of being shut down.

“For restaurant owners, this is their livelihood and it is in their best interests to comply and not to have to go through (multiple inspections),” said Rozak.

Higgins said he met with the Restaurant and Tavern Association while developing the law to find a common ground.

“We took into consideration a lot of their concerns,” said Higgins, who also sponsored the county’s calorie posting law that requires chain restaurants to identify calorie on their menus.

He said the law is “revenue neutral” and since inspections are already being conducted by county Health Department employees, there will be no additional cost to taxpayers.

“My goal is to … provide consumers with information that’s public, in a simplified form, so they can make a decision where they want to go to eat based on cleanliness and sanitary conditions of these restaurants,” said Higgins.

Albany County previously posted inspection reports online at www.albanycounty.com/restaurantinspections, and they’re still available there for viewing.

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