May 9, 2022 - Food and Drink

Restaurants may need to post food safety results

Illustration of a traffic light with place setting shaped lights.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Restaurants could soon be required to post color-coded signs by their entrances showing whether they're up to city food safety code.

Why it matters: City Council member Scott Benson wants residents and visitors to be able to see potential safety risks associated with restaurants that aren't following health codes.

  • Benson's ordinance is written and expected to be introduced to City Council in June after talking with residents and restaurant owners, he tells Axios.
  • If approved, the grading system would start Jan. 1, according to city budget documents.

The big picture: Detroit is looking to New York City and other cities as examples, but trying to do it a bit differently. In NYC, restaurants have to put up A-B-C letter grades corresponding to points received in sanitation inspections.

  • Benson's proposed system is an effort to assuage worries that letter grades can result in restaurants being judged too harshly for reasons that aren’t easily understandable to the public.

Details: The color-coded signs would mean:

  • Green: A restaurant is in compliance with health standards.
  • White: A follow-up inspection is required.
  • Yellow: Problems need to be fixed.
  • Red: Ordered closed for violations.

Flashback: Benson also pushed for health grade signs outside restaurants following a regional hepatitis A outbreak from 2016 to 2019.

  • "This is a direct result of restaurants failing inspections in the past," Benson says. "I said enough is enough. We need to have a system where people can be educated on what's going on as far as their health."

The intrigue: Colors are better than letter grades, says Justin Winslow, president of the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association.

  • But there's a challenge that comes with trying to enforce rules like this, he adds. Inspection results can be a "somewhat subjective decision from health department to health department."
  • "Obviously there are reputational concerns for the restaurant," Winslow says. "If they believe they have been misjudged, that can impact [their] economic livelihood."
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