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Restaurant grading system looked at

Reading a local food inspection-violation chart could eventually be as easy as checking a child’s school grades, officials said Monday.

Mindy Waldron told Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health board members her department has been looking at amendments to the food and beverage ordinance for at least a year. Waldron is the department administrator for the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health.

The department’s ordinance is reviewed every few years, but a recent suggestion was to incorporate a scoring or grading system similar to how larger cities in the United States convey restaurant inspection results.

Recent restaurant closures due to health violations have triggered the public’s interest, Waldron added.

“There was a rise in the number of facilities that were closed over the last few months for issues related to pests, and a lot of complaints were received,” she said.

The Lakeside Café on Coliseum Boulevard North was among the most recent restaurants to be closed because of health violations. The restaurant’s doors were closed Feb. 19 after health officials found evidence of pests inside, according to the health department.

It later reopened but was the ninth restaurant closed this year. In all of 2013, the health department closed 23 restaurants.

Ann Applegate, director of the health department’s Food and Consumer Protection Division, said her department is considering programs from across the country to find a good match for the county.

“We have been looking at several different models of these restaurant grading systems and seeing how we can implement those into what we currently have,” Applegate said.

Indiana food laws are focused on critical or non-critical violations, or what are called “swing” violations – those that could be critical or non-critical depending on what the investigator observes, she said.

The new grading scale or points system would place more emphasis on risk-based violations, making it easier for the public to understand the severity of the violation.

Although the health department is in the planning process, Waldron said she hopes to bring a draft of the proposal to the board in the coming months.

Waldron said the department is also in the process of developing an app for smartphones that would allow people to view public documents such as food and beverage inspections.

Massage parlors

Also on Monday, the board discussed to what extent the health department should be involved in assisting Fort Wayne Police Department officers with health-related concerns at massage parlors and other establishments.

Waldron said she had been contacted by officers about the health risks of a bathing service offered at a local massage parlor.

Police officers contacted Waldron and said there was a service being offered where an individual could pay to have someone bathe them. The officers expressed concerns about whether that service was sanitary.

As long as the table or area was cleaned properly, Waldron said, it would not pose a health risk.

Board members said the health department should continue to assist whenever requested but would not allocate resources to address the practice.