Sonoma County’s 3,500 restaurants and retail food outlets soon will participate in a new public rating system that could be more important to everyday business than winning a Michelin star or Zagat survey mention.
The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a color-coded placard system to let customers know how eateries fared in food safety inspections.
Restaurants with no more than one major violation that is correctable during unannounced health department visits will receive green “pass” placards, while those with two or more violations will receive yellow “conditional pass” cards. Red “closed” labels will be issued for more serious violations, such as vermin infestations or sewage backups, that can’t be fixed right away.
The 8½-by-7-inch cards must be posted in conspicuous locations such as storefronts or cash register stands. In all cases, owners will get a chance to make corrections and to be re-inspected for higher ratings.
“The purpose of this is to reduce the risk of food-borne illness,” Department of Health Services Director Stephan Betz told supervisors before they voted 5-0 in favor of the rating system.
It is expected to start sometime this spring and is modeled on programs elsewhere in the Bay Area, officials said.
The reaction from restaurant owners was muted Tuesday. No representatives of the industry, one of Sonoma County’s leading service and tourism sectors, attended the short hearing, which featured no public speakers and minimal debate among board members.
Owners reached by phone after the hearing were supportive.
Kevin Cronin, owner of Rosso Pizzeria and Wine Bar in Santa Rosa, said it’s a good thing. He said similar placards are mandatory in cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles.
“It makes everybody pay attention,” Cronin said. “It’s important for consumers to know they are dining in a place that is operated properly.”
But Jonathan Coe, president of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce, worried any new regulation — as well-intentioned as it is — would bring added costs to businesses that would be passed on to the consumer.
“The reality is, it will cost a little more now to eat out in Sonoma County,” Coe said.
Supervisors backed the rating system as a way to protect the public while maintaining the reputation of food-centric Sonoma County.
Efren Carrillo, the board chairman, praised the results of a yearlong field study showing 96.5 percent of more than 2,500 restaurants inspected would have received the green placard.
Three percent got a yellow, and 0.5 percent, or 13 restaurants, received a red. Inspection reports are posted online through the county’s environmental health division.
“It’s a testament to our restaurants,” Carrillo said. “They put quality above everything, and food safety is a component of that.”
Other board members expressed concern the placards wouldn’t be issued to food trucks or temporary eateries, including stalls at farmers markets and crab feeds. Health officials said they could be considered in an update to the ordinance.
Also, Supervisors Susan Gorin and David Rabbitt worried the green “pass” placard might not go over well in high-end restaurants boasting top ratings by the likes of Michelin. Gorin said it “doesn’t help ambiance.”
“They would rather have a star,” she said.