The Detroit city council has not yet determined whether restaurants will be required to post food safety compliance labels, but officials are bringing the discussion back to the committee’s table this week.
The city council has debated and postponed the vote several times over whether restaurants should be required to post color-coded signs indicating their compliance status, similar to New York’s message rating system, with some officials claiming the city is ready, while others are lobbying against it. 3 District Council member Scott Benson spearheaded the proposed law, which would not only require appointments but at least add other Detroit Health Department inspectors.
The city agreed to increase $200,000 in annual funding for the Department of Health to hire additional inspectors. Officials on September 13 were still conflicting about passing the law and pushed it to the Standing Committee on Public Health and Safety at 10 a.m. Monday for further discussion. The meeting can be viewed online.
The Department of Health has 10 inspectors and five job postings, according to Deputy Director Kristen Floyd. When researching other laws across the country over the past three years, Benson said the extra layer of reporting would help improve public health.
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“There is a greater focus on food safety. It creates transparency because at the point of service our customers and residents see what the results of the latest health check are, and it also educates our audience about what these things mean. It brings people more in line with food safety, which is critical.”
Colors are divided into four categories. Green means the restaurant has received an inspection and is in compliance. White indicates that it has been scanned but has a primary violation of priority that cannot be corrected on site during the scan. Yellow indicates that the restaurant is under implementation while red indicates closure by the Ministry of Health.
The president and CEO Dean of the Metro Detroit Black Business Alliance lobbied aggressively against the law due to the lack of data.
The assumption was that there was an increase in foodborne illness in the city of Detroit. The Ministry of Health says it is not being reported. “Both of these are going to need to be solved,” Dean said. “Why isn’t it being reported? Is there a lack of access to healthcare? It looks like one or two competing buildings. This solution doesn’t solve either. It wasn’t just based on data.”
Council members had planned to vote on the decree on September 6, but Pro-Tem President James Tate proposed a week-long delay to clear ideas and consider the use of QR codes, which were proposed by the Metro Detroit Black Business Alliance. The code will take patrons to a website with details of the latest inspection and links to public data about other food establishments.
“A QR code requires you to have number 1, data on your phone and number 2, a phone that can read a QR code. We know that our seniors usually don’t have access to those QR codes based solely on technology,” Benson said. “Another serious concern, 47% of Detroiters are functionally illiterate. Not a statistic I am proud of but a true statistic, nonetheless.”
Benson said that converting the reporting to a QR code could prevent “functionally illiterate” from reading complex documentation that the code might provide.
“Not only have we wiped out our senior citizens from being able to use this, we have also wiped out nearly half of Detroit’s population,” Benson said.
However, District 7 Councilman Fred Doral, who will not immediately support Tuesday’s proposed ordinance, supports the QR code because it will provide more information about the restaurant’s infraction.
“You can look at a color but the color doesn’t tell you exactly the offence,” Durhall said. I want to develop something that works, and if we’re going to invest in it, let’s start from the ground up.”
The decree can enter into force on May 1, 2023, if approved.
Protesters recently stood alongside Benson in a rally outside downtown Lafayette Coney Island, which the Department of Health has ordered closed, citing an infestation of rodents. Fourth District Councilman Latisha Johnson wondered how restaurants were being inspected after Lafayette Coney Island underwent several inspections before closing.
Scott Withington, the city’s environmental health officer, said routine inspections are done either every six or 12 months, which results in green or white signs, and investigations into complaints or foodborne illnesses are conducted within five business days. Withington added that based on Lafayette’s last inspection in May, the restaurant would have been given a white sign under the proposed law.
“Enforcement comes as a result of following our enforcement policy, which is usually the same priority as a serious violation or a Priority Institution violation three times in a row, or failing to correct the violation in time. Hence the red flag is actually a decision by the health official to issue a closure order. Based on the severity or as part of the implementation process and failure to get the patch as a result, Withington said.
The city maintains an online portal for restaurant inspections.