Foodservice Equipment Reports

Baltimore Weighs Letter Grade System

A letter-grade system, like those used for health inspections in New York and North Carolina, is under debate for restaurant and bar owners in Baltimore.

Legislation mandating that the city health department implement a grading system and create an online database of grades is being reviewed by the City Council's health committee. Every member of the council has signed on as a sponsor of the bill, which also has the support of the city health department, the mayor’s office and the Baltimore Development Corp.

According to The Baltimore Sun, representatives of the state's restaurant industry call the measure an expensive, inconsistent and ill-informed policy that would threaten local businesses while not benefitting public health. A spokesman for the Restaurant Association of Maryland, which strongly opposes the grading system, called the bill "a solution in search of a problem."

The Sun reports that there are more than 5,700 food establishments in the city that are inspected on a sliding scale based on level of risk. This year, 68 have been closed or temporarily closed because of violations, which range from lacking hot water to having mice or insect infestations. There were 111 closures in 2011. The total number of closures per year has generally been trending downward since 2007, when there were 267.

The bill would give a restaurant a week to rectify problems found in an initial inspection before being re-evaluated and given a letter grade. The health department has recommended amending the bill so that a letter grade could be issued on the spot. The best grade would be an "A," but the bill doesn't outline how many different letter grades can be issued. Most cities use an "A" to "C" grading system.

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