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Grand jury targets restaurant ratings

It recommends that Orange County consider replacing its current system with a color-coded means of letting diners know of any health violations.

March 15, 2014|By Jill Cowan

Posted unobtrusively low in the floor-to-ceiling front window of a trendy salad joint or fading in its plastic sleeve at the sushi place next door, the orange-ringed seal has for decades been a great equalizer of sorts among Orange County restaurants — theoretically useful, but often unnoticed.

Now, an Orange County Grand Jury report recommends that those orange rings be switched out in favor of a stoplight-style color code, reviving a long-simmering debate over the county's restaurant health rating system.

While county leaders have periodically considered instituting a letter grade system like the one that's been in place in Los Angeles County since 1998, discussions have fizzled out over concerns such as the estimated $500,000 cost of implementation and potential effects on local businesses.

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The grand jury's most recent report, released earlier this month, floats a color-coded system like ones in Sacramento and Alameda counties. The Orange County Board of Supervisors has about three months to officially respond.

Currently, Orange County residents choosing a place to eat can look for the small, nearly identical orange seals that read either "Pass," "Reinspection Due, Pass" or "Closed."

Under the system proposed in the grand jury report, a green sign would indicate that a restaurant passed inspection, a yellow sign would indicate that a restaurant passed conditionally and is due for a reinspection, while a red sign would denote that the restaurant was closed because of major, uncorrected health violations.

Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach concurred with the report's findings.

"I think most of our restaurant owners and chains would easily get green decals," said Moorlach, who has supported similar efforts in the past. "If you have a yellow decal, it might affect your business ... but it's a helpful incentive to make sure our constituents are protected and getting the quality of food that they should expect."

The color code would also better align with Orange County's current inspection protocols than letter grades, the report argues, and would cost less to implement as a result.

But others point out that Orange County is one of the few jurisdictions in Southern California without those blocky blue letters in restaurant windows, and a system too different from ones in surrounding areas might only confuse diners.

"This whole color thing is way too unique and it's out of step with everybody else," Supervisor Todd Spitzer said earlier this week.

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