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Health department introduces probationary period for restaurants

CHARLESTON, W.Va. --  Kanawha County restaurants that have been closed because of critical food code violations will now be put on probation for up to 30 days, health officials said Thursday.

The restaurants will be required to post a yellow inspection sheet with "probation" banner in their restaurants for up to 30 days after they have reopened, Anita Ray, environmental director for the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, told the Board of Health Thursday during its regular meeting.

Restaurants that have three or more critical violations that can't be immediately corrected when they are inspected are closed for a time. A sanitarian must re-inspect the restaurant to be sure the violations were corrected.

Now instead of receiving an "excellent," "good" or "fair" rating after having been shut down, restaurant officials will be required to post the sign indicating the restaurant is on probation for up to 30 days, Ray said.

Since the new system started, sanitarians have so far not had to put any restaurants on probation, "which is a very good thing," Ray told the health board.

The health department has also started giving a "Gold Star Award" to restaurants that do exceptionally well with food safety compliance. The award is given to restaurants with no critical violations and one to five non-critical violations, depending on the risk level for the restaurant in question.

Risk levels are assigned based on the amount of food preparation done at each restaurant. A full-service restaurant would have a higher risk level than one that serves microwave-heated food, for instance, Ray said.

Sanitarians have so far given out 16 Gold Star Awards in the county, Ray said.

In other business, Gupta said the health department received two awards from the National Association of County and City Health Officials. It received one for its indoor smoking ban and another for its vaccination clinics at schools.

The smoking ban has a high level of compliance and inspections, and health officials have been able to demonstrate a 37 percent reduction in heart attack admissions to local hospitals over an eight-year period, Gupta said.

Health department officials recently learned that the department would receive $50,000 more than it expected for the 2013-2014 budget, which begins in July. Half of the money is from the City of Charleston and half is from Kanawha County, Gupta said.

The department will use the money to hire an additional sanitarian.

The budget boost comes at a time when the department is facing close to $100,000 in state and federal cuts, Gupta said.

"This [extra funding] goes a lot farther this year than it would in other years," Gupta said.

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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