In 2003 the Environmental Health Services Division of Maricopa County introduced a program by which restaurants were awarded gold, silver or no awards, depending on the results of the inspections conducted at the establishment. It was a system whereby points were assessed for health code violations. In 2011 a new process was introduced by which Phoenix area restaurants are evaluated for adhering to health regulations, and in October of 2011 a letter-grade system (A, B, C, D) was put in place.
The Maricopa County Environmental Health Services Department is responsible for ensuring that the restaurants in the County comply with the Environmental Health Code. The greater Phoenix area is located within Maricopa County. Inspectors visit restaurants, caterers, food processors, prisons and jails, food warehouses, bakeries, and school cafeterias to evaluate the food safety practices in these establishments. The inspection of these businesses is conducted in accordance with the State of Arizona Food Code.
Each food establishment is assigned to a specific class.
Restaurants and other food handling businesses are issued permits for their specific class, depending on how they process food. For instance, a restaurant that handles and prepares a great deal of raw food is assigned to a different class than an establishment that deals mostly with pre-packaged food.
Inspections are performed and violations are noted.
In past years there were major violations and minor violations, then critical and noncritical violations. Now, Maricopa County has adopted the FDA Model Food Code, which, simplified, breaks inspection items into either Foodborne Illness Risk Factors and Good Retail Practices. As the name suggests, Foodborne Illness Risk Factors are those that have been found to contribute to the hazards associated with illness or injury to patrons. Good Retail Practices relate more to premises, controls and maintenance not directly affecting the food.
Obviously, Risk Factors noted by an inspector are more serious than Retail Practices. Examples of Risk Factors reported might include that employees of the restaurant have discharge from eyes, nose, or mouth; food being obtained from a source that is not approved; food not cooked, reheated or cooled at proper temperatures; food surfaces not clean or sanitized. Examples of Retail Practices reported by an inspector might include improper storage of utensils or linens, plumbing problems or restroom issues.
Violations are tallied.
The establishment's score will be determined. A score of zero for both Foodborne Illness Risk Factors and Good Retail Practices is the goal -- that means that there were no violations of any kind.
In June 2011 Maricopa County implemented a new Food Safety Management program whereby food-related establishments partner with the agency to develop a program for ongoing control of risk factors. Restaurants and other businesses handling food that are accepted into the program will have policies, training programs for employees, and a monitoring system that rewards them for establishing and maintaining proactive activities that promote food safety. A Cutting Edge Award will be issued to those food establishments that successfully participate in the program.
About the A-B-C-D Grading System
The system by which a letter grade is assigned is voluntary on the part of restaurants, so it really carries no weight other than being easy to see. Every food establishment will be evaluated in the same way as any other, and may receive a perfect score or a failing score, or something in between, whether or not they opt-in to the letter-grade system.