Some Paxton restaurants not posting inspection placards

PAXTON — The Country Gardens Restaurant & Pancake House on Paxton’s west edge proudly displays its inspection placard on its front door.

Manager Teresa Huseini likes to show off the Country Garden’s “A” grade and score of 91 that it received on its most recent inspection by the Ford County Public Health Department.

“I am proud of the employees for what a good job they do — they spend a lot of time cleaning and going above and beyond what they’re supposed to do,” Huseini said, “and I think the public deserves to see that.”

Many other Paxton food establishments also received an “A” on their inspections and were issued placards indicating the same in recent months.

However, of the 19 food establishments in the Ford County seat that received an unannounced visit by a Paxton Record reporter Friday, only the Country Garden had a placard prominently displayed on its front door, immediately noticeable to patrons.

Six had placards displayed behind their cash registers or counters, while two had placards posted on a wall or somewhere else — locations where the placards might go unseen, especially if patrons don’t know what they look like.

And the majority of the establishments — 10 — did not have a placard posted anywhere.

The health department’s interim administrator, Lana Sample, said last month that she was aware that some placards were not being displayed as prominently as they should be. But she was unaware that some were not being displayed at all when contacted by the Paxton Record on Friday.

“Every one should have one,” Sample said. “I’ve been signing those placards for a while now.”

Sample said in December that all 110 businesses with permits to sell food in Ford County were given placards, each containing a score and letter grade — A, B or C — based on the results of their most recent inspection.

But on Friday, most managers and owners of establishments where no placard was displayed said they had not received one. Others said they were unaware that placards are required to be hung for public viewing.

The health department requires the placards be “placed in a location which is clearly visible to the public ... and from which it is easily readable,” according to the agency’s food sanitation ordinance.

The ordinance allows for the “exact placement” of each placard to be determined by Nancy Mandamuna, the health department’s environmental health practitioner who conducts the inspections.

Sample said that because the placard program is so new — it went into effect Dec. 1 — some issues can be expected initially. Sample said the public can expect efforts by the health department in upcoming weeks to hold restaurants more accountable to the rules in place.

“As Nancy goes out to do the inspections this year, she is going to work with the owners and management to make sure that they are being placed in a clear, visible spot to the public,” Sample said.

“It will be interesting in three months to see if (the lack of compliance) would be the same way (as it is today),” Sample added. “I honestly don’t think it would — at least I’d hope not.”

Mike Short, the Ford County Public Health Department board’s president, said implementing the placard program has been “a learning process for all of us — not only for the establishments but also for us.”

“We will work with the establishments to see that they are aware of the importance of having these placards placed where the patrons and potential patrons can easily view them,” Short said.

At the moment, there are no plans to require establishments to post their placards on their front doors, Sample said. Instead, the placard locations will continue to be left up to Mandamuna, while “giving due regard to the nature of the facility.”

“Our hope would be that they would put it on a front window or door, but not every business has that ability,” Sample said. “So to put a flat statement out (requiring all be posted on the front door) wouldn’t be fair if not every business is capable of doing that.”

In addition to the placards, Sample reminded the public that there is a “Ford County Public Health Food Inspection Search Portal” on the health department’s website, which can be used to search for and view food inspection reports for every food establishment in the county.

Changes coming
Short said his board would encourage the public’s suggestions on how to improve the placard program further. The board’s next meeting, which is open to the public, is set for 6 p.m. Feb. 17 in the board room at Gibson Area Hospital in Gibson City.

During last week’s board meeting, the board made one change to improve the placards’ visibility: The font size for the letter grade on each placard will be increased, starting with the next round of placards issued.

“It’s not quite double the size, but it’s pretty close,” Short said, “and it’s a little bolder.”

The board also approved having each establishment’s placard serve as its permit, effective Jan. 1.

“In the past, we’ve had two separate pieces of paper (one a placard, one a permit),” Short said. “So the placard will also be the permit, going forward.”

Also, an expiration date will no longer be listed on each new placard issued; instead, the placard will include the establishment’s last inspection date.

How often each establishment is inspected is based on their “risk” category — which ranges from “high” to “medium” to “low.” Of the 110 permitted food establishments in Ford County, there are 42 low-risk, 26 medium-risk and 42 high-risk establishments.

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