The letter grade system for reporting restaurant inspection results most associated with New York City has reached Colorado. Michael Bloomberg, the three-term liberal billionaire mayor, first imposed an A-to-F posted grading system on Big Apple restaurants in 2010. Before Bloomberg left office at the end of 2013, his letter grade system was being heralded as a major accomplishment of his 12-year tenure. It was being copied as far away as Florida, and public awareness in New York spread quickly by New Yorkers using apps to locate restaurants with A and B ratings. Without warning or fanfare, letter grading has arrived in Colorado through a somewhat unlikely jurisdiction — conservative Weld County. It’s upset the Colorado Restaurant Association (CRA) and left the state’s public health community a bit perplexed. In a sense, what Weld County did was pretty simple. It did not change how restaurant inspections are scored and will continue using the same system with points assigned to a violation that Colorado restaurant inspections have been using since the 1990s. Mark Salley, communications director for the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment (CDPHE), explains that the 1990s system is coming in for review. “The department, in coordination with our local public health partners, is reviewing and considering revisions to our current ratings guidance,” Salley told Food Safety News. “Considerations include weighing the prevalence of the violation with the establishment and what mechanism is best to communicate these findings to the consumer.” What Weld County did do is replace the adjectives: excellent, good, fair, poor and unacceptable, with A-to-F letter grades. Jeff Lawrence, who heads CDPHE’s environmental health and sustainability division, wants Weld County to at least keep the excellent, good, fair, and unacceptable ratings in parentheses, along with the letter grades, so there is consistency among all 35 local jurisdictions in Colorado doing restaurant inspections. Bloomberg’s letter grade system was credited for its popularity with New Yorkers but also for its claims of having reduced incidents of foodborne illness. However, there are some doubts about that in Colorado. “We know that CRA and the NRA (National Restaurant Association) have expressed concerns about the use and value of letter grades and that nationally there are other methods used by other regulatory agencies,” Lawrence notes. “These differing views and differing methods create that debate.” Four years ago, Denver Environmental Health required restaurants with repeat violations to post those notices on their doors until corrections were made. CRA members hated the practice so much that they agreed to pay higher (some say much higher) fines for less public attention. It still requires public postings when a restaurant is closed for imminent health hazards or if one is found guilty in court of violating a health code. Danica Lee, manager of Denver’s food safety section, says that violation data show lower rates of violation per inspection since the 2011 changes were made. “There are no plans at this time to move to a letter rating system,” Lee says. “Some of the challenges with establishing rating systems include fairly reflecting a facility’s severity of violations as well as compliance history over multiple inspections. Lee, however, adds that nothing is “off the table” and the department continuously evaluates the efficacy of the existing system for communicating with consumers. Denver restaurant inspection reports with inspector notes are available on the city’s website.” Weld County is a 4,001-square-mile area south of the Wyoming-Colorado border and north of Denver International Airport. It is among the richest agricultural counties and most productive oil and gas areas in the U.S. It plans on doing 2,650 food establishment inspections in 2015.