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By Elena Kadvany

Santa Clara County rolls out restaurant scoring system

Uploaded: Oct 8, 2014

Cheers to transparency: Starting this week, Santa Clara County diners will be able to access online full health inspection information for any and all eateries, from full service restaurants to bakeries, delis and markets.

The County Department of Environmental Health announced Monday the launch of a "new and improved" website for reporting food facility inspections and grades. It's searchable by facility name or location; you can view most places' major, moderate and minor violations in recent years and when inspections occurred, along with inspectors' field notes from visits and a resulting numerical inspection score from 1 to 100.

However, as you'll see below (and as pointed out by astute reader Max Hauser in a comment below the story), the presentation of data is flawed. If you search for a restaurant, it brings up past violations from times when that particular restaurant might not have even been open yet. For example, see what comes up for the Oren's Hummus new Mountain View location, which opened in July:

The August 2013 violations were from the previous tenant at 126 Castro St., Workshop Burger Bar & Grill.

Under the new law, food establishments are also required to post placards on site indicating the results of their most recent health inspection. A green sign indicates a passing grade and yellow, a conditional pass, meaning some major violations were found but they were all corrected upon inspection. There's a red placard for those who fail health inspections, though technically customers should never see one, since any facility that fails will be closed until the violations are corrected and a new inspection is completed.

These changes are the result of a new food-safety law that was passed in April.

"Whether you're grabbing a quick lunch or settling in for a fancy dinner, you want to know that the food was prepared in a kitchen that's clean and safe," County Supervisor Joe Simitian, who pushed for the changes, said in a statement. "Now that information is available online and at the front door."

"Foodborne illness is a serious public health problem," he added. "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report an estimated 76 million U.S. cases of foodborne illnesses annually -- including 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths."

Play around with the new website and you might notice that not all of your local eateries have the full data. The county said that because the system is new, scores and inspection results will be coming online over the course of the coming months. Older scores will be retained to allow customers a sense of how each restaurant has performed over time.

It's a big win for Simitian, who actually first advocated for such changes during his first term as supervisor 14 years ago. In 2000, the Board of Supervisors did approve a previous proposal he put forth to post health-inspection results online, but it was never actually implemented.

"Look, this is public information," Simitian said. "The public should have easy access to it. Now they do. I appreciate the work of the Department of Environmental Health over the past year in making this new scoring and reporting system a reality. This is a definitely a case of 'better late than never.'"