Health officials in Orange County, CA, are reportedly getting ready to again propose rating restaurants with letter grades based on their latest inspection results. There have been two previous attempts to convince the county’s board of supervisors to adopt the system using A, B and C letter grades. This time, however, the proposal was requested by the board chairman, Todd Spitzer, after reports that Orange County restaurant inspectors were finding more major violations and closing more restaurants despite a budget shortfall.

NYC restaurant inspection grade A sign
Sample of a New York City restaurant inspection grade sign.
Spitzer also reportedly said the system would be paid for by taxpayers and not by increasing fees levied on businesses. Most of the expense of the county’s inspection program is paid for through annual permit fees, starting at $561 for small restaurants. This past November, the board of supervisors cited the cost of adopting the grading system ($40,000), along with the possibility of raising the permit fees, for rejecting the plan at that time. Neighboring local government jurisdictions in California using the letter grade system of posted restaurant inspections include Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and Riverside counties, along with the cities of New York and Philadelphia. Other places use a color-coded placard to indicate a restaurant’s latest food safety inspection status. Orange County currently requires restaurant owners to display a post-inspection placard noting that their business’ status is “Pass,” “Re-Inspection Due,” or “Closed.” The county also posts restaurant and other retail food establishment inspections online, as do many other California counties (see list here). Orange County officials say that, unless more funds for inspections are appropriated before July, it’s likely that some of the 8,500 permitted restaurants there will only be inspected once each year. Most are only being inspected about twice a year now, although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends twice that many inspections for restaurants which extensively handle raw ingredients and prepare potentially hazardous foods for next-day service.