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Published July 08 2013

Forum editorial: Inspection of eateries mixed bag

Before restaurant patrons stop frequenting Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo eateries in light of Sunday’s Forum report on food inspections, a measure of perspective is in order.

First, the vast majority of restaurants have stellar inspection records. Several had no “critical” violations – that is violations that rise to serious public health concerns. They are the ones that could cause foodborne illnesses, for example.

Second, in most cases (certainly not all) a restaurant tagged with a critical violation cleaned up its act quickly so that on subsequent inspections the problem had been corrected. Some of the worst offenders worked closely with public health professionals to clean up and pass inspections.

That being said, reports from Cass and Clay county public health agencies that enforce state sanitation laws revealed some establishments with patterns of critical violations. Some of them no longer are in business. Some still are, and the health departments’ inspection information should provide some guidance for paying customers.

Line-by-line perusal of the data reveals another curious trend. Locally owned restaurants had on average worse sanitation records than the national fast-food franchises that food snobs love to hate. Of course, there were exceptions among both local establishments and chain restaurants. Many of them in both categories had excellent inspection histories.

But even those statistics varied from Fargo to Moorhead. Fargo McDonald’s stores, for example, had better reports than Moorhead McDonald’s outlets, based on a similar number of inspections. A locally owned restaurant in Moorhead did not do well, while the same locally owned place in downtown Fargo had a good report.

The restaurant folks might complain that there have been no reported cases of foodborne illness attributed to eating at local restaurants, therefore the reports paint a false picture. The operative word is “reported.” People affected by bad food might never know the source.

The public health system of inspections is designed to minimize chances restaurant patrons will get sick from eating a meal at a restaurant. The idea is to prevent illness, not to react when it’s too late. It’s one of the best uses of public money. It provides restaurants and other establishments that sell food and prepared meals with strict standards. In the long run, that’s good for business. Moreover, inspection reports provide the buying public with critical information about where to purchase food and meals, and where not to. Such transparency is good public policy.

Again, a little perspective: A huge majority of restaurants and other food service outlets passed inspections with flying colors. For example, of the 575 establishments inspected in Fargo and West Fargo, 363 had no critical violations. Many others had only one or two, and most of those were corrected before a follow-up inspection. So overall, the restaurant and food preparation industry in the metro does a very good job of serving the public. Enjoy.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.