Foodservice Equipment Reports

Denver Operators Debate Inspections Deal

Two years after agreeing to a deal in which Denver’s Department of Environmental Health would stop posting reports of critical violations on restaurants’ front doors in exchange for accepting higher fines for infractions, the Mile High City’s operators are seeing red.

The phrase “ticket quotas” is being bandied about, and Denver restaurateurs are alleging that inspections are now about raising revenue, not food safety.

According to the Colorado Restaurant Association, fines last year produced about $610,000 more revenue than in 2008, the year before the city-industry deal was struck. Under the new system, the DEH gave up levying a $300 fine after three consecutive critical violations, and instead charged no fine after the first violation, $250 after the second, and $500 for the third up to $2,000 in a 12-month period. (A critical violation involves something that is likely to cause foodborne illness.)

Last year, Denver restaurants in 8,090 inspections paid fines totaling $731,900.  In ’08, ’09 and ’10—all preceding the new schedule—fine revenues, respectively, were $122,335, $157,670 and $118,995.

During that period, more than half (55%) of Denver's 1,230 restaurants were fined. In the previous three years, between 29% and 35% of establishments paid fines.

Bob McDonald, environmental health director for the city-county government, told the Denver Post that restaurateurs are playing with misinformation.  He said it was understood the new system would result in high fines and inspectors are required by law to write up critical violations.

McDonald says under its new operating ordinance, postings are still used if environmental health officers close the restaurant or if the establishment poses an imminent threat to public health.   

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