By Janice Nesamani
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
The new Food Safety Rating System has made its presence felt in the International District (ID). While not all restaurants have been inspected as per the new system yet, we checked with those that have and found that the process is painless, but makes an impact on customers.
Going out to dine in Seattle just got a lot smiley-er! Walk through the ID and you’ll be greeted by emojis on most restaurant doors or front windows. The varying degrees of smiles on their faces indicate how seriously the establishment in question takes its food safety levels.
A year ago, Public Health Seattle-King County decided to unveil a new safety rating system to give the public more information on the system. Though it has taken them a year to put the system in place and start implementing, the results of food inspections are clearly displayed to anyone entering the restaurant. The ratings ranging from ‘Excellent’ to ‘Needs to Improve’ are simple enough for anyone to understand. What’s more, customers who want to know exactly what violations a restaurant has, can now enter the name of the establishment on the King County website for a detailed inspection report.
Szechuan Noodle Bowl, a quiet little restaurant on 8th Avenue South that has been open for the past 24 years has a ‘Good’ rating plastered on its front window. The restaurant was inspected on Feb. 10, 2016 and the procedure took about 5 to 10 minutes.
YingQui Huang, who runs the place with his wife, spoke to the Northwest Asian Weekly as his daughter Kelly translated. “It was the usual inspection. The rating we received was same as always and there were no major problems. The inspector gave us our rating and we had to go to the Public Health Department to pick up our inspection report. The only difference is we had to display the ‘happy face’ sticker on the window.” Huang adds that the rating has not affected his business at all. “People have liked our restaurant, so they come in like always,” he said.
A few blocks away, Carmelita Velanzuela, who manages Joe’s Bar and Grill located opposite King Street Station, is more than satisfied with the ‘Excellent’ rating that the dive bar has received.
Commenting on the process of the food inspection, she says nothing has changed in the way they maintain their hygiene standards. When it comes to displaying the rating system at the entrance of the bar, she thinks it’s fine. “I don’t know about as a business, but as a patron of other restaurants, it helps to see that they got an ‘Excellent’ or ‘Good,’” she said. On whether the ‘Excellent’ rating has prompted an increase in customers, she said, “I wouldn’t say we have had an increase, but patrons have definitely noticed and mentioned it. Earlier, it wasn’t publicized. Now when they see ‘Excellent,’ they say, ‘Wow, It’s great you guys got the highest rating.’ So it helps business.”
Mark Pinkaow of Thai Curry Simple located right next door, however, didn’t have such ‘Excellent’ luck. His restaurant received a ‘Needs to Improve’ rating based on the latest food inspection.
Pinkaow said, “There are some cultural differences in Asian and Western cooking methods. So, some areas and some restaurants will struggle with a good rating. On the day of the inspection, our water heater broke down. The food inspector was a really nice guy. He came in, did the inspection, told me that it was the law that I required a heater for hot water, and had to give me a ‘Needs to Improve’ rating. I had to put that up on my door.” Even though the restaurant had a low rating, there was a considerable lunch rush at his restaurant when I passed by. Pinkaow said while the rating has hurt the chances of tourists or new customers coming into his store, his regulars still bring in business. “I heard that this new system is going to be changed soon, I’ll support the change. In the meantime, I hope that another food inspection is carried out soon, so that I can change the rating on my door,” he said.
For restaurateurs in Pinkaow’s situation, however, it could take a while for a rating change to reflect on their doors. The new system issues ratings on a curve, taking into account the last four food inspection reports.
Janice can be reached at email@example.com.