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City's new restaurant rating system needs to be tweaked, official says

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A little more than halfway through the trial run for its new restaurant rating system, the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department is considering tweaks before rolling it out county-wide next year.

Environmental service director Anita Ray said the current scoring system for the program is unfair.

It allows restaurants to get an "excellent" rating even if sanitarians find multiple critical violations at the business. As long as employees correct the problems before the sanitarian leaves, the offenses will not count toward the restaurant's final rating.

Ray said that isn't fair to restaurants where inspectors never find critical violations.

"There should be some penalty for having that many violations, even if they are corrected," she said.

She does not know how the rating system could be changed to fix that discrepancy, however.

Dr. Rahul Gupta, executive director of the health department, said he likely would ask the Kanawha-Charleston Board of Health committee that designed the program to meet again and hammer out the details.

The six-month pilot program began Aug. 1 after months of work by a committee.

 "We knew there would have to be some changes made. That was the purpose of the pilot," he said.

As part of the pilot program, restaurants in South Charleston and along Corridor G now receive inspection forms with orange, yellow or green bars across the bottom. The forms indicate whether compliance with health code is "excellent," "good" or "fair."

Health inspectors rate restaurants based on the number of uncorrected critical and non-critical violations they receive. Only businesses that earn zero uncorrected critical violations are listed as "excellent." Businesses with one uncorrected critical violation and fewer than 11 non-critical violations earn a "good" compliance rating, according to the chart.

Any business with two uncorrected critical violations receives a "fair" compliance rating, no matter the number of non-critical violations. Restaurants with three or more uncorrected critical violations are shut down.

Gupta said the scoring system originally allowed restaurants to correct violations without penalty because the health department has long permitted businesses to fix violations to avoid being shut down. Inspectors still list the violations on a restaurant's inspection sheet but write "fixed" beside them.

Ray said the health department also would have to address sanitarians' workload before rolling out the scoring system countywide.

The health department introduced a new laptop-based health inspection system in August. Ray said all the sanitarians are using the system but are not completely comfortable with it.

She said it takes inspectors longer to complete their reports, so they are not performing as many inspections as under the old paper-based system.

"It's hurting our productivity somewhat. That's just something we're going to have to work through in time," she said.

Ray said the software still hasn't been programmed to print inspection forms with color-coded bars at the bottom.

Currently, the sanitarian working in the South Charleston/Corridor G area must complete his inspection reports using the new software and then turn his report over to a clerk who retypes all the information into a template with a corresponding rating bar.

Despite the problems, Gupta said he expects the new rating system to begin countywide on Feb. 1.

"Overall it's been well accepted," he said.

Ray said she expects the bugs will be worked out by then.

"We're getting closer and closer every day. It's just not an easy thing," she said.

Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or zack.harold@dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ZackHarold.


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