KENNEWICK, Wash. - Health inspectors at the Benton-Franklin Health District receive roughly 200 customer complaints every year; with nearly 1,000 food businesses in the Tri-Cities, inspectors have more than enough on their plates.
"Our low risk food establishments, such as a convenience store or an espresso stand, it's usually 1-2 times per year--facilities though that have more food and more processes, they're 2-4 times per year," said Susan Shelton, a health inspector at the Benton-Franklin Health District.
During a routine inspection, which is often unannounced, inspectors determine a business's risk based on what they call "red criticals." They look for hygiene, temperature control, contamination, food source and knowledge. Hygiene tends to be the biggest problem in the two counties.
"It's people spreading germs to other people--in this case, food workers--when they're sick and get the germs on the food. So we always watch for hand washing," said Shelton.
In the last year, 27 businesses have been temporarily closed due to health violations. Most were closed because water related issues. Inspectors say businesses that are shut down are often back in operation within 24 hours, some in less than 15 minutes.
But why not have a visible indicator of how well a business is performing? For example, a letter grade.
States like South Carolina, Mississippi, New York and parts of California require food facilities to display their inspection grades, using letters "A," "B," or "C." Many people in the Tri-Cities believe a visible letter grade would be beneficial.
"It would be easier...you would know nice places to go to eat," said Markeita Nichols, a Tri-Cities resident.
"A lot of people don't take the trouble to think about it so I think it would help a lot," added John Taylor, a Tri-Cities resident.
Celia Sakach, a Tri-Cities resident, also agreed saying, "Surroundings and the cleanliness of an establishment means a lot to me personally and I think it would help the success of businesses and restaurants here."
Currently, the health department provides abbreviated inspection reports on their website. They have considered using letter grades to show how well or poor a business is doing, but say it's difficult because it's not consistent.
"We don't want to give people the false impression of something that was perfect the day we were there, but could be dramatically different the next day," said Shelton.