Nov 12, 2018

Restaurants Support Elimination of Letter Grading

This Thursday, November 15, the Wisconsin Board of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) will vote on draft administrative rules updating Wisconsin Administrative Code Chapter ATCP 75 to bring it into substantial accord with the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) 2013 Model Food Code. The proposed draft includes language which prohibits the application of grades or scores to retail food establishments based on inspection reports.  This action would eliminate the City of Milwaukee’s current food grading system.

The Wisconsin Restaurant Association supports DATCP’s planned action on this matter as the association does not support letter grades or scores as a means to communicate food safety compliance to the public.  WRA staff have spoken with restaurants in Milwaukee and the overwhelming response is that they do not support letter grades for food safety inspections.

A single letter grade or score does not inform consumers about the nature of a risk at the restaurant and it can alter perceptions for the wrong reason. Grades and scores are not an accurate predictor of the likelihood of a foodborne illness outbreak in a restaurant. 
The WRA does support a pass/fail system where a restaurant that poses a risk to the public is closed until the violations are corrected. 

Inspection scores and letter grades are not the answer to ensuring public confidence in dining out. Identifying and understanding what the most important food safety principles are and which restaurants comply with those principles helps the consumer feel confident in their dining choices.

WRA realizes consumers have a keen interest in food safety and want to be able to access public records relating to restaurant inspections.

WRA supports initiatives that both educate the public and ensure confidence in the safety of dining out and believes that providing searchable online databases is a reasonable and effective solution.  These databases are currently available in every area of the state with the exception of two agent jurisdictions.

On behalf of the restaurant and foodservice industry, WRA works with local, state and federal regulatory agencies to discuss, debate and enact science-based food safety protocols and codes. WRA works hard to have a positive relationship with all food safety regulatory agencies.

WRA is also an active participant at the National Conference for Food Protection. The Conference makes recommendations to the Food and Drug Administration for updates and additions to the FDA Model Food Code, which is what the Wisconsin Food Code is based on.  

WRA believes that for any public information initiative to be successful, consumer education is key for success.  Food safety is complex and science-based.  There’s a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding as far as public perceptions of food safety.   

A letter grading system is also likely to create an adversarial relationship between restaurant operators and inspectors.  Good relationships between operators and inspectors are so important to ensuring the prevention of foodborne illness and the public’s safety.