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Denver Defends New Restaurant Inspection Scheme

Bob McDonald, Denver’s environmental health director, wants restaurateurs and the public at large to understand how the city now enforces inspections.

McDonald met Tuesday with some of Denver’s restaurateurs who are upset because more fines are being levied after inspections.

The city and county of Denver two years ago decided to adopt a new fee schedule for repeated critical violations while dropping its previous practice of posting the violations on the restaurant’s front door.  

Restaurant owners did not like posting critical violations on their doors, and McDonald says the practice was not effective from a public health perspective because of appeals.    Postings could not go up as long as a violation was being appealed.

That usually prevented the postings until long after the violation was corrected. 

McDonald says under its new operating ordinance, postings are still used if environmental health officers close the restaurant or if the establishment poses an imminent threat to public health.   

Those notices are posted immediately without regard to whether or not there is an appeal.  “That notice stays up,” McDonald told Food Safety News.

McDonald says the city and county of Denver’s website also now not only includes a summary of the completed restaurant inspection form for each establishment, but also the inspector’s notes.

When the new fine schedule was adopted, McDonald says everyone knew it would generate more revenue, but not by more inspection activity. McDonald says he has the same inspectors making about the same number of yearly inspections.

Previously, Denver Environmental Health could levy a fine of $300 on the third consecutive critical violation. A critical violation involves something that is likely to cause foodborne illness. Inspectors are not allowed to overlook a critical violation.

Under its new ordinance, Denver imposes a $250 fine on the second repeat violation, and $500 for the third up to $2,000 in a 12-month period. 

In its first full year of its implementation, the new fine schedule brought in $731,900 or roughly $600,000 more than the previous three years average, according to figures provided by the Colorado Restaurant Association (CRA).

That group reports that 55 percent of Denver’s 1,230 restaurants paid fines in 2011.

Denver spends more than $2.4 million on all public health inspections during the year, according to the adopted city-county budget.

Peter M. Meersman, president of CRA, also told Food Safety News the restaurant industry did not like the posting system because it was a “very severe penalty for sometimes routine violations.”

McDonald says it is a “misunderstanding” to depict Denver’s new system as part of any political fines for posting deal.  “I would never agree to anything that did not advance food safety,” he says.

McDonald says city-county government remains open to suggestions, but he is confident the changes that were made are resulting in safer dining in the Mile High City.

© Food Safety News