Orange County considers color-coded restaurant health ratings

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Orange County supervisors agreed Tuesday to explore a color-coded restaurant inspection system that would alert would-be customers of what to expect at restaurants by using green, yellow and red signs.

If county health officials move forward with the plan, it would align them with restaurant rating signs in Sacramento and Alameda counties, but not neighboring Los Angeles, San Diego and Riverside counties, where a letter-grading system is used.

The proposed traffic-light style was proposed in a grand jury report that criticized the county’s current system as confusing.


For years, a debate over that system — using nearly identical orange placards to signal whether a restaurant has passed, conditionally passed or failed its most recent inspection — has largely been a back-burner item and past discussions on moving toward a letter grade system have fizzled over concerns about funding and potential effects on small businesses.

On Tuesday, supervisors John Moorlach, Patricia Bates and Todd Spitzer voted in favor of exploring the color-coded system. The matter is expected to resurface by May 20 after county staffers refine a proposal.

Moorlach said constituents have told supervisors that when it comes to food safety, “It’s your job to protect us.”

Keeping the status quo only to have the issue resurface every few years doesn’t serve the public, added Bates. And switching to a color-coded system, she said, could be a simple, cost-effective fix.

While Supervisor Janet Nguyen said she may ultimately support that effort, she abstained from the vote until she could determine whether a new system would mean increased fees for small-business owners.

“I don’t want this to be a burden on our businesses,” she said. “A restaurant is not a dollar business, it’s a penny business.”


Supervisor Shawn Nelson, on the other hand, opposed the proposal outright, saying that it’s not the government’s role to make decisions for consumers.

He said Orange County’s current system — where a failing restaurant will be closed — is good enough.