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Restaurant "grading scale' debated

If Florida's restaurants got report cards, the average grade for cleanliness would be a low B, a state official said Tuesday. The official, Eanix Poole, the state's environmental health program administrator, and others with the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS), heard mixed testimony at a public hearing concerning a proposed statewide restaurant-ranking system that would work much like report cards.

Currently, restaurants are inspected by the state and rated on a 100-point scale. Those inspection records, although open to the public, are not posted.

If the plan is adopted, restaurants would be ranked A, B or C according to their HRS inspection report, and the rank would be posted in a conspicuous place for customers to see.

M.J. Mighdoll, executive vice president of the Florida Restaurant Association, called the idea scary. "It's a complex procedure that can hardly be reduced to a simplistic A, B or C," Mighdoll said at the hearing, which drew a crowd of about 30.

Ratings "put additional pressure on inspectors and promote unprofessional and illegal behavior in efforts to have low ratings removed," said C. Dee Clingman, vice president of quality control for General Mills Restaurants.

But officials from Pasco County, the only county in the state that ranks restaurants, insisted the system works well there.

Seventy-five percent of Pasco's 800 restaurants now have an A ranking, said Ken Swann, the county's director of environmental health. All the others have B's.

"But it didn't start out that way," said Betty Damaso, a New Port Richey retiree who led the push for the Pasco standards. "Before, it was leaning the other way," she said, meaning that most had C rankings.

In Pasco County, restaurants begin inspections with 100 points, Swann said. As violations of health standards are discovered, points are subtracted. A score between 70 and 84 is a B. Nothing lower than a C is given.

The state's average is a 72, according to a report by the Food and Drug Administration, Poole said.

HRS will summarize the material presented Tuesday for Rep. Ron Glickman, D-Tampa, and Sen. Jeanne Malchon, D-St. Petersburg, who plan to file bills calling for a ranking system.

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