New Grading System and Regulations Coming for Georgia Restaurants - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

02/01/07

New Grading System and Regulations Coming for Georgia Restaurants

When you go out to eat, how confident are you that your restaurant is safe? Pretty soon, you won't have to look too far to find out.

The Georgia Department of Human Resources has passed a new grading system and new regulations for restaurants all over Georgia. But, places in Savannah we checked with didn't know about it.

Until now.

The DHR voted on the new regulations January 17th. The Georgia Restaurant Association was made aware of the changes almost immediately.

The question people in the food and service industry have is, why was it kept secret from them? Restaurant owners want to know what is going on?

Nine years ago, Nichol Bush and her mom, Willie Mae, opened "Mom and Nikki's" soul food, catering home-made meals.

Six months ago, they moved into their new restaurant on Martin Luther King Boulevard.

"It's going wonderful," Nichol told WTOC. "It really is."

The hardest part is keeping up with food and safety regulations.

"Especially in food and service, you have to make sure everything is prepared right, stored right, and there is cleanliness involved at all times," Nichol said.

Last week, Nichol found out from a customer, those regulations, including how they are graded, will be changing.

"It was literally winded right by us that it was changing from numerical to alphabetical," Nichol said. "It took us by surprise. We're the one's who will be graded. You'd think we'd at least get a heads up or notice so we can get ourselves prepared and get used to the newer system. For them changing it like this, it is a surprise."

Jim Deal isn't surprised. He teaches a mandatory class on food and safety for new restaurants. He says most knew changes were coming, but had no idea when, making some wonder if it was all hush hush.

"I say hush hush, but it hasn't been properly announced yet," Deal said. "That's what bothers me. They told me it was voted on and approved without discussion."

Now, Georgia will join South Carolina with a letter grade system for rating restaurants.

Last summer, the GRA balked at proposed changes because they did not like the idea of a letter grade on the door. Since then, they have compromised to have the letter grade anywhere within 15 feet of the entrance way. Deal thinks the new regulations will cause headaches for restaurant owners.

"The way these regulations are written, there will be many changes," Deal told WTOC. "I don't think these are an easy fix at all."

The new grading system will be based on a 100 point system. An "A" is between 100 and 90 points, which is excellent.

A "B" is satisfactory, a "C" is marginal and a "U" is unsatisfactory. These grades will be paired with the current numerical restaurant inspection score on the news inspection reports.

24 new regulations will also be in place, including the addition of a consumer advisory to all menus, similar to ones you may already see warning about eating raw meat and shell fish.

Plus, pre-packaged foods will be under extra scrutiny and restaurant owners will be forced to pay extra attention to time and temperature of foods.

"If restaurants will have to take time and temperatures, that's a totally different change than what they are accustomed to in the past," Deal said.

Deal thinks the new changes are fair, but wishes restaurants were told immediately.

"It's going to change the way every restaurant operates," he said.

"I'm pretty sure a lot don't know," Nichol said. "I definitely would like to know about it."

Nichol hopes the Department of Human Resources and the Georgia Restaurant Association act a little faster now that the information is out.

"It would help if they gave us the information so we knew what we were complying with," Nichol said.

Ron Wolf with the Georgia Restaurants Association in Atlanta says the changes weren't kept a secret on purpose. The new food and safety regulations have been posted on their website and restaurants will be notified of the changes in the next 30 days.

Wolf says the new changes won't go into compliance until November because of training and paperwork. This gives restaurants 9 months from the time they are notified to comply with these new regulations.

 Reported by: Don Logana, dlogana@wtoc.com

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