New county placards aim to reduce foodborne illness


Food inspection just got a lot more colorful. Starting this year, thanks to a program by the San Mateo County Department of Environmental Health, food inspectors will begin using color-coded placards to tell customers if the restaurant they are visiting adheres to food safety standards.

The placards are required indicators of compliance with food safety standards laid out by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and must be clearly displayed near the entrances of all places where food is prepared: restaurants, bakeries, food trucks, schools, health care facilities and some convenience stores.

The colors under the new program, like a stop light, will be green, signifying a "pass" on the inspection; yellow, signifying a "conditional pass" and that two or more violations must be corrected within three days; and red, signifying a "fail." A red placard means there is an imminent health hazard that cannot be corrected immediately, and the facility will be closed until unsafe conditions are corrected.

Critical risk factors for foodborne disease, according to the CDC, include food from unsafe sources, inadequate cooking, improper holding temperatures, contaminated equipment and poor personal hygiene.

Violations of food safety vary in the risks posed to human health. Minor violations include things like leaking faucets, missing light covers or missing thermometers, according to a report by Kameisha Nichols, county food program supervisor.

Examples of more serious health hazards include sewage backing up at the facility, a rodent or insect infestation, lack of water or hot water, no electricity, or severe unsanitary conditions, according to a video by the department.

"Foodborne illnesses are 100% preventable, and yet every year, one in six Americans gets sick from them, and 3,000 die," said Heather Forshey, director of San Mateo County Environmental Health Services. "This program will help consumers quickly understand a restaurant's food safety status and give restaurant operators a chance to show off their successful commitment to food safety."

Placards are set to appear during the first half of the year as the department inspects more than 3,000 food service facilities around the county, the announcement said.

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