MADERA COUNTY – The Community and Economic Development Environmental Health Division is preparing to review the first round of public comments this spring for a voluntary trial rating program for food facilities in Madera County.
Seven facilities are participating county-wide, including three foothill-area restaurants. In Oakhurst, South Gate Brewing Co. on Highway 49 and Pete’s Place on Highway 41 are currently enrolled in the Voluntary Pilot Placard Grading Program; in Coarsegold, Subway on Highway 41 is in the placard program.
All three local establishments have an “A” grade as of their most recent inspection.
Madera County Community and Economic Development Environmental Health Division food facility inspectors are charged with preventing food borne illnesses. The inspection for participants of the pilot program varies from the regular inspections due to a point reduction system based on major violations. A score of 90% and higher is considered an “A” grade.
This April will mark the first time the Division will assess the first round of comments of the public participants from each one of the identified food facilities within this pilot program throughout Madera County. Meanwhile, the Division continues to encourage facilities to participate. Ms. Jerry Becker is the Division’s Registered Environmental Health Specialist II (REHS II).
“We had been contemplating doing this for quite some time,” says Supervising Registered Environmental Health Specialist (REHS) Phil Hudecek. “The push was really from the mountains, from people who were used to the grading system from Los Angeles and other big cities.”
With approval from the County Board of Supervisors, the Division promoted the program on a trial basis and intended to include food facilities in each area of the county.
“We called around to some of the more popular facilities and asked if they would be interested. We met with them, gave them a presentation with a self-inspection check to help guide them. The ones who were interested in doing this were brought into the system.”
The lack of a letter-grade placard on a food facility means only that they’re not participating right now. Inspections are unannounced, says Hudacek.
“They never know when we’re coming.”
Dev Sharma is a Franchisee at Subway in Coarsegold. The sandwich shop has been in the program for a year, and he’s in favor of the grading system.
“Customers are really impressed with the grade on our initial inspection. I thought it would be a good project for the entire county because environmental health inspectors come in and tell you what you’re not doing according to acceptable standards,” Sharma says. “Ultimately it would only help the restaurant to improve.”
Sharma is quick to point out that all Subway restaurants have their own rigorous internal inspection process for which he must be ready at any time.
“We are a self-policing type of organization because we have our own franchise inspectors that come in unannounced, and so we have to be on the lookout every single day. We cannot let things slide. Every day we have to maintain a good standard for our restaurant. It’s better for the entire industry, the quick-service restaurant as well as the full-service restaurant, that we all maintain a standard that’s universally acceptable and doesn’t jeapadize anyone’s health for one second.”
That’s the idea behind the County program, as well.
The results of this trial will go back to the Supervisors to determine whether the placard project should continue and go on to include all of the 600-plus food facilities that exist in Madera County. A food facility is any location that distributes food to the public, whether it’s a soup kitchen, mini-market, grocery store, or bar, among other facilities.
“If we get good responses from the public, it could happen,” says Phil Hudacek, referring to the comment cards patrons can fill out at each location. “The facilities give a comment card to each person or each family and there are several questions asking how they like the system, if they want to see it throughout the county.”
One advantage of the grading program is that it’s an easy system for patrons to understand. “An ‘A’ is safe,” says Supervising REHS Hudacek, adding that the highly visible placards reflect excellence in food safety to the public.
The placards are high-tech: scanning the QR code on a mobile device links directly to the Madera County website and the EHD page. A user can then search the specific restaurant to view the details of its most recent inspection.
The value is that customers can research a facility before eating as they scan the grade placard, and quickly see if the restaurant has any health code violations.
The most common violations inspectors see are related to food temperatures, says REHSII Becker.
“Temperatures above 41 f. and up to 135 f. are in the danger zone when growth is the most likely for the kind of bad bacteria that is going to get you sick,” confirms Hudacek.
The County offers a confidential service that allows consumers to call and report facilities when necessary.
REHSII Becker encourages people to speak up if they believe a restaurant or other location may be in violation. “One of the best ways is to call 311 and ask for Environmental Health Division food facility program,” Becker notes.
Food Facility Inspection Grading participating facilities in Madera County include: Black Bear Diner in Madera, Farnesi’s in Chowchilla, Farnesi’s in Madera, Pete’s Place and South Gate Brewing Co. in Oakhurst, Subway in Coarsegold, and The Vineyard in Madera.