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Restaurant safety grades made public

Restaurant-goers in Bermuda can now check hygiene and food safety standards at their favourite eating-out spots after health watchdogs decided to go public with results of health inspections at food service outlets.

The “grades on licences” scheme was introduced without fanfare by the Environmental Health Unit this year, with the online publication of a list of scores for the majority of restaurants, cafés, supermarkets, bars, bakeries and delicatessens on the island.

Chris Garland, head of the restaurant division at the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce, said the food industry welcomed the launch of the scheme, which allows establishments one chance every year to improve their grade after a first and unannounced inspection by environmental health officers.

Mr Garland said: “It's a fair way to deal with what is a very sensitive subject. If I had a bad grade, I'd be unhappy as an owner. The answer is to not do things badly and to take care of your establishments.”

A Ministry of Health spokeswoman said the grading scheme had been “very well received.”

She added: “Restaurants have been very complimentary about the system and process. The public have also been very supportive.”

The spokeswoman told The Royal Gazette that the grades would be released every year.

She said: “The grades on licences scheme was launched to provide greater transparency and information to the public regarding the inspection outcome of these establishments.

“The publication is part of a soft launch that is being rolled out in phases to eventually capture 100 per cent of food establishments.”

The 180-strong list features 77 premises with an A grade, 88 with a B, six with a C, and eight with an “approved” or “satisfactory” rating.

The ministry spokeswoman said: “These approved and satisfactory grades can be given to new premises at the time of licensing, after an initial inspection but before a follow-up full inspection takes place, once the business is serving food and beverages.”

No premises received a D grade — the worst possible score and grounds for “urgent action” or “consideration of closure” by the Department of Health.

One restaurant on the list is ungraded, although the spokeswoman could not explain why by press time yesterday.

The Environmental Health Unit's website explains that food outlets are scored on a 100-point scale based on factors such as food temperature control, personal hygiene procedures, protective clothing for staff and vermin control.

The site said: “When there's a violation, inspection points are deducted from the score. Points are deducted from that score based on public health significance — for example, food temperature control is a critical item and is given more points. The higher number of points a food establishment scores, the better the grade attained.”

A total between 90 to 100 points receives an A grade, 80 to 89 points gets a B, C is awarded for 70 to 79 points, with a D grade for 70 or under.

The website said: “Some critical violations must be corrected immediately to remove an imminent risk to health.”

Last year, this newspaper made a public access to information request to the Department of Health for “the most recent grade given to the island's food and beverage premises in relation to their compliance with health, hygiene and safety standards”.

The information was requested in order to publish a ratings list, similar to the tool offered by health officials in New York.

The request was denied for administrative reasons on the basis that gathering the records would be too much work for the department, as well as on the grounds that the records requested contained personal, commercial and confidential information.

The refusal was upheld by health permanent secretary Jennifer Attride-Stirling and the decision was appealed to the information commissioner.

The commissioner's office discovered during its investigation that the grades had been published on the Government's website in June and alerted The Royal Gazette last week. The appeal will now be withdrawn.

Part-time Bermuda resident Michael Bloomberg said in 2013 when he was New York mayor that the city's ratings scheme had helped cut salmonella cases.

Gastroenteritis is a public health concern in Bermuda.

A report from 2015 said there was an incident of one episode per person per year and the study found salmonella poisoning accounted for almost half the cases.

But the Ministry spokeswoman said: “In terms of all syndromic gastroenteritis reported to the Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit over the last 44 weeks, the ESU has not had any investigations confirm associations with specific restaurants.”

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Published November 30, 2017 at 8:00 am (Updated November 30, 2017 at 8:30 am)

Restaurant safety grades made public

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