Health inspections: Restaurant scores on the decline

COVINGTON - Though restaurants have been required to meet more stringent requirements on health inspections for almost a year, some are still struggling to get their scores back up to par.

Newton County health inspection scores have been on the decline, dropping as much as 10 percent since the regulations were implemented in December 2007. The same is true throughout the state, according to Vernon Goins, spokesman for the East Metro Health District, which includes Newton, Rockdale and Gwinnett counties.

"Since the introduction of the new Georgia food service health codes in December 2007, all health districts have seen a dip in average inspection scores," Goins said. "While the decrease isn't radical, and we predict they'll rise back up, it does point up the positive application of the FDA-like regulations across our health district and the rest of the state. Some, very few, facilities are having repeat problems, but we know they'll take whatever measures are necessary to ensure the safety of their patrons. After all, without them they can't do business."

Recently GG's Pizza and Wings, located at 9148 U.S. Highway 278, voluntarily closed after receiving a 66 U (unsatisfactory) grade on a Nov. 14 inspection. The regulations require restaurants to shut down after two consecutive unsatisfactory scores, but many are closing on a voluntary basis, according to Goins. GG's also received an unsatisfactory score on Feb. 12 but got an 89 B upon reinspection 10 days later.

A man who identified himself as manager of GG's said he would not answer questions over the phone and hung up when an attempt was made to make an in-person appointment.

"The new regulations, and our focused application of them, help managers and owners see that they should include food safety in their bottom line of doing business. Overall, we're seeing a positive reaction to the new regulations. Usually, we only have to make our case with management and they do the rest voluntarily. This has been our experience to this point with GG's Pizza and Wings," Goins said, adding that the restaurant has reopened.

GG's score was not the lowest score in the latest batch of inspection reports.

Pool Room Cafe at 5152 Washington St. scored a 56 U on Oct. 27, but got a 75 C on a reinspection Nov. 10.

McDonald's at 4147 Salem Road scored a 49 U on Nov. 5, and just two days later, got a 92 A.

China Star at 13015 Brown Bridge Road had the lowest score, with a 42 U on Oct. 30, but bounced back with a 100 A on Nov. 3.

Goins said that overall, restaurant owners have been quick to address any problems and made efforts to better learn the new regulations.

"Most often, when we give a (low score), the manager or owner of the facility is so concerned about their employees having drifted away from strict adherence to the health codes that he or she will want to do a 'once over' of the entire establishment," Goins said. "This will frequently include some remedial food handler training. It's not unusual for our inspectors to be invited to lead this training. Now that Certified Food Safety Manager's certificates are required, we're seeing a much greater astuteness and awareness of food safety in management. This is very encouraging."

Part of the reason for lower scores is that inspectors must now mark a violation immediately and deduct points, whereas in the past, they were allowed to give the restaurant owner time to correct it and were not required to mark it on the score sheet.

Managers and operators are interviewed at each inspection regarding their knowledge of food safety practices and each location is required to have someone certified in food safety management.

Score sheets must be posted in a spot that can easily be seen by customers, and on the outside of drive-through windows, Goins said.