Umatilla and Morrow County residents can now easily check how their favorite restaurants scored on their latest health inspections.
Depending on how much you want to know about your food, that can be good or bad news. But it’s a more complex process than diners might expect.
“Every restaurant we license has to be inspected [...] once every six months,” said Joseph Fiumara, Umatilla County’s environmental health supervisor.
Though restaurant health scores have always been public, customers had to request them directly from the health department. They’re now accessible in an online database.
“It’s been available for Umatilla and Morrow counties since May or June,” Fiumara said. Most counties across Oregon will soon be following suit, he said.
Fiumara said the format on the website is more comprehensive than previous presentations of the data, which he thinks will benefit restaurants and educate diners. Rather than just the numerical score, diners can now see the specific areas where restaurants lost points, and how they were instructed to correct them.
“To me, unless you really understand these scores, they don’t tell you much, and can have negative pushback that’s not deserved,” he said. “So I prefer being able to see the broader process. I can tell you that you could score a 100 and I could walk out of there and say I’d never eat there. A lot besides the score goes into it.”
Restaurants start out with 100 points, which are deducted for each violation. A business must score at least 70 points to be considered compliant. The scoring process is broken down into three types of violations: priority, priority foundation and code violations.
Priority violations are those that directly lead to food-borne illnesses, such as food temperature or not washing hands. Each violation in that category costs the restaurant five points.
Priority foundation violations are those that don’t directly lead to foodborne illness, but can quickly become a problem. Failure to have testing strips for chemicals is a priority foundation violation. Each of those errors costs the restaurant three points.
Code violations are facility-based, and don’t impact food safety — such as a small hole in the corner of the ceiling. They do not have a point value attached to them.
“Theoretically, you could get 100 percent and still have violations,” Fiumara said.
If a restaurant has any repeated violation from their previous inspection, the restaurant is docked twice as many points — they can lose up to 10 points on one item.
If a restaurant has any priority or priority foundation violations, no matter their overall scores, they have to correct them either on the spot, or the department will follow up within 14 days.
If a facility scores lower than 70, they are issued a “fail to comply” sticker, which has to be posted on the restaurant’s entrance. Then, they are given 30 days to correct the violations before the department conducts a re-inspection.
“There are only two results of a re-check,” Fiumara said. “Compliance or closure.”
He said that in the two years he’s worked at the department, he has not seen any restaurants close because of a failure to comply.
“It’s very rare for us to issue a ‘fail to comply’ in the first place,” he said.
He said in the last round of inspections, all the restaurants in Umatilla and Morrow County were in compliance. In the one before that, he said two failed to comply — Kwong’s Cafe in Pendleton, and Fortune Garden in Hermiston. Kwong’s has since closed, of their own accord, and Fortune Garden was re-inspected shortly after and was found in compliance.
Fiumara said it’s uncommon to see a restaurant score 100, unless it’s a small establishment.
But some restaurants do. The Midway Bar and Grill, Hermiston received a 100 at their last inspection, a score owner Stuart Rice said they expect.
“We have house policies and procedures, and we set the standard high,” Rice said. “My mom always said, ‘If you have time to lean, you have time to clean,’ so I always expect people to clean if they’re not busy.”
Rice said their policies exceed those set by the county health department.
“If they come in and want something adjusted, we adopt that immediately,” she said. “We don’t mess around.”
At the last inspection, the Midway had one code violation, a thermometer that was showing an incorrect temperature.
“We had another one within two hours,” Rice said.
The most recent scores for 10 popular Hermiston restaurants were:
Walker’s Farm Kitchen - 100; Lawan’s Thai Garden - 92; Kobe Hibachi Sushi - 97; Delish Bistro - 100; Nookies - 95; Ixtapa - 95; Nelly’s - 100; Hale’s - 74; Taste of Thai - 82; La Palma - 74.
Recent scores for 10 popular Pendleton restaurants were:
Prodigal Son - 95; Thai Crystal - 90; Sister’s Cafe - 92; Great Pacific - 92; Hal’s Hamburgers - 97; Virgil’s at Cimmiyotti’s - 74; Hamley Steakhouse - 100; Rooster’s - 92; Dickey’s Barbecue Pit - 100; Joe’s Fiesta - 95.
Fiumara said common violations included temperature control, such as not keeping hot food hot, or cold food cold. Other issues that appeared for many restaurants included improper storing of food, when to wash hands, improper marking of food, and chemical sanitzers with inadequate pH.
Fiumara said scores can also vary depending on the inspectors.
“When you get new people going into facilities, things get seen that weren’t seen before, or were overlooked,” he said.
He said the county also does inspections for the school district’s food service on a contract basis, but they don’t get scores because it’s not a public food service.
For businesses that primarily have food for off-site consumption, such as grocery stores, the inspection becomes the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture.
Restaurant scores are available at https://healthspace.com/Clients/Oregon/Umatilla/Web.nsf/home.xsp.