Should Indiana restaurants display cleanliness rating?

States, cities adopt hygiene grading systems

INDIANAPOLIS - When you walk into a restaurant in Indiana, there's nothing posted inside the establishment to give you information regarding the cleanliness of the eatery. 

Whether it's a burger joint or a high-end restaurant with white linen tablecloths, you won't find a restaurant "grade" similar to what you'll find at eateries in many other states, such as North Carolina, where the restaurant's grade of "A" through "C" is displayed prominently by the front entrance.

Janelle Kaufman, Marion County's food and consumer safety administrator, said she thinks Indiana's current system works well without letter grades because complete reports are made available online .

"I know consumers really want it, and I think it's something that if they see it, it seems like they could get the full picture, but from my opinion, it doesn't quite say what the history of the restaurant was, so they could get a 'C' or a 'B' on one inspection, but then they get a subsequent re-inspection and they could be an 'A' again," Kaufman said. "So, we like to post the full reports to give the full picture, give all the information a consumer needs to decide whether or not they want to go to that restaurant."

In July 2010, New York City’s Health Department made it mandatory for restaurants in all five boroughs to post letter grades summarizing their sanitary inspection scores, with a goal of reducing illnesses associated with dining out.

If a New York City restaurant doesn't receive an "A" on a routine unannounced inspection, a re-inspection is done in about four weeks. 

New York City’s Department of Health reported a 14 percent decline in salmonella cases in the first 18 months of using the letter grading system. 

A 2005 study shows Los Angeles County, where restaurant grading began in 1998, saw both a decrease in the number of reported cases of food-borne illness and an increase in the revenue of A-earning restaurants.

Indiana relies on county health departments to conduct routine unannounced inspections of all food establishments. 

If an inspector finds violations, a re-check visit will take place from 10 days to a month after the routine inspections. That gives the restaurant some time to correct the violations.

Consumer advocates in cities such as Seattle and Milwaukee have urged leaders to adopt a grading system similar to the one used by New York. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year, one in six Americans, or about 48 million people, get sick from a food-borne disease. About 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die. More than half of reported outbreaks occur at restaurants and delis.

Watch Drew Smith's special report on dirty dining in Indianapolis on The News on RTV6 at 11:00 Thursday.

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