Dirty Dining: New inspection process changes how often your favorite restaurant could get inspected

TAMPA - There are so many food choices when it comes to eating out, everyone has their favorite. But depending on how that food is prepared and how well that restaurant follows the rules, may now determine how often it's inspected. A new bill just past in the Florida House and Senate permits state inspectors to use a risk-based frequency, meaning the more the public is at risk, the more the place gets inspected.

"Quality isn't about being perfect, it's about getting better," said Diann Worzalla, the new director of the Division of Hotels and Restaurants.

Worzalla is in charge of all state inspectors and supports this new frequency program. She explains that instead of restaurants inspected just two times per year as mandated by law, the state will visit restaurants more often who are not following the rules.

"Focus our resources there on those people who really need us and not so much on the people who are doing a fine job," Worzalla added.

Worzalla says the new frequency program also allows restaurants that use less raw ingredients and serve more pre-packaged products to get less inspections.
"That is pretty much the way the Food Code has it. If you have limited preparation and limited a chance of making someone ill, then heating it and serving it, there's very minimal handling in that process," Worzalla explained.

But not all agree with this new legislation.

"Everybody needs that surprise inspection to make sure everyone is on their game," said Chef Clyde Tanner, the Academic Director of culinary at the Art Institute of Tampa and thinks all restaurants should be inspected equally.

"If I focus just on the 'C' grade restaurant just because owner 'A' had an 'A' inspection for the last 5 years and they change management, that puts us all at risk," Tanner said.  

Chef Tanner also believes Florida's inspections should include a letter grade system which is in place in California, where he used to work. That A, B, or C grade is displayed on restaurant doors based on the eatery's major and minor violations.

"Having that pressure of getting that a score card really does insure safety," Tanner explained.

But Worzalla disagrees.

"It just doesn't give a true picture. Just maybe be a snap shot of just that moment," Worzalla said. And she argues Florida's risk-based system is very effective as is.

"We've seen a 90% drop in food-borne illnesses in Florida restaurants in the past 15 years. Now that's a model food safety program," Worzalla bragged.

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