New safety rating scores on restaurants won't be hard to miss

SEATTLE --  Workers at Pie in Fremont say food safety is as important as the taste.

“If you are not rated good or excellent, you probably shouldn’t be open,” employee Stasia Archibald said.

So there is no pushback here on a food safety rating program baking over at the King County Health Department.

“If anything, it would make us more competitive with other businesses in the area,” Archibald said.

Starting next year, health rating placards will be posted on windows prominently near restaurant entrances.

“As I am walking down the street, I am imagining seeing these placards on all the windows,” Katie Nagavi said.

The placards could possibly look like 1 of 6 designs; the health department wants consumers to take a survey identifying the design that is most understandable.  They will not use a letter grade system like the ones used in other cities. Instead, the county is brainstorming other ways to convey the scores.

“I like option A and I like it pretty straight forward that doesn’t look almost childish because people will more likely take it seriously,” Archibald said.

Some consumers say the public window placards will keep consumers safer in a time when foodborne illnesses are a problem.

“Customers have a right to walk into a restaurant and know what they are getting is safe, period,” Brittain Ladd said.

Not all diners are on board.

“It’s like Scarlett Letter, I can see it being a difficult task for a restaurant to redeem themselves,” Nagavi said.

The health department says they’ve been working on the placard idea for years and their goal is to reflect a restaurant's performance over time so a rating will never be measured by just one bad inspection.

Pie employees say they are pleased health inspectors will zone in on specific food safety risks, not just the number of violations.

Seattle Restaurant Alliance says they have been talking to the county about the best way to implement the placarding system, something they are in favor of.

The Alliance says initially they were concerned about health inspection inconsistencies, saying sometimes reports on the same restaurant can vary depending on the inspector.

The Alliance says the health department has since addressed those concerns by working toward increased consistency.

The health department will occasionally ask inspectors to perform inspections side by side. When inspectors identify discrepancies they can address it.

The health department says the placarding system is a complicated project that needs to be done right. They do not want to give diners a false sense of security with the ratings.

They will roll out the new system with a relatively small number of restaurants, then ramp it up from there.

The department is asking the public to weigh in with this survey.