Restaurant Cleanliness: Silicon Valley Eateries One Step Closer to Accountability

In February, the Investigative Unit exposed how the county inspection system is broken -- restaurants aren’t graded or scored, and don’t have to publicly post their inspection reports

What you don’t know, can hurt you -- that’s what one Santa Clara County supervisor says about restaurant inspections. It comes three months after our Investigative Unit exposed a broken system that could affect your health. Thursday, the department that oversees restaurant inspections reported some progress towards change.   

Restaurants in Silicon Valley don’t have to post their inspection report, but do have to show it to you if you ask to see it. When we first went undercover in February -- nine out of ten refused to show us. So the county sent out postcards reminding all restaurants of the law. Did it work? We went undercover again asking the same exact questions to find out.
Half of the Silicon Valley restaurants we went to wouldn’t show us the inspection report -- and this was after the county sent reminders in response to our first undercover investigation. 
Even the general manager of a chain restaurant told us the report is private, but then said he would make an exception. We pointed out a sign to him that said inspection reports are available for review. “This is another kind of document,” he said. “That’s the only thing we can show to the customer, not this.”
But that’s not true.
Simitian says when restaurants aren’t held accountable it affects public health.
“You ought to be able to walk into a restaurant and know if it’s safe and healthy, and it’s that simple,” he said.
Thursday, the Department of Environmental Health reported making progress with how it communicates inspection results online. Earlier this year, we found it to be essentially useless. Now, you’ll see details of violations cited, making it easier to understand. 
“This is one of those times when what you don’t know can hurt. Ignorance is not bliss,” Simitian said. “Before you walk through the door, you want to know what you are getting and you are likely to get something better if the person putting it on the table, knows they can be held accountable.”
Which is why Simitian wants to see a grading or scoring system and require restaurants post it. The county has just formed an advisory group to study those options.
“The next meeting is going to be a discussion of different needs and expectations of a potential placarding system from the perspective of public, regulated, and regulators,” Heather Forshey, of the Department of Environmental Health said. “We’re going to get together and we’re going to identify the concerns, needs, and the desires that each of us has for an ideal system.”
Previous NBC Bay Area investigations on this topic:
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