Safe Serving: Are West Michigan restaurants making the grade?

Amid heightened nationwide concern over E.coli and salmonella, some government leaders are advocating posted letter grades following health inspections. (WWMT/Denise Schermerhorn)

Imagine being able to see just how clean the kitchens are in your favorite West Michigan restaurants without going inside the building.

It’s a scenario that some cities outside of Michigan are trying to test in recent years with letter grade systems requiring that restaurants post letter grades after health inspections.

Most recently, Milwaukee adopted the letter grade policy after studying the idea, but in Michigan, not everyone thinks the grades are the most effective way to keep restaurants up to code.

Kalamazoo County Health Environmental Health Manager Vern Johnson says the grading system doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story of restaurant cleanliness.

“It’s difficult to use a grading system and to have it convey any kind of assurance to the general public,” he said. “If a restaurant received a 95 percent, are you comfortable eating at that restaurant?”

Johnson says Kalamazoo County health inspectors prefer to practice what he calls Active Manager Control, which he says guides restaurant owners to consistently keep restaurants clean.

“As we go in to do those inspections we want to take a look at not just what the restaurant looks like today but also what management is doing to achieve Active Manager Control,” he said.

He noted that inspectors try to inspect restaurants at least twice a year in Kalamazoo County.

Johnson said some of the more common violations and mistakes found in West Michigan restaurants revolve around hygienic practices, such as hand washing and the sensitization of food-contact surfaces, like cutting boards and cooking equipment.

Kalamazoo County joins the ranks of several other counties in West Michigan by putting restaurant inspections online.

In 2017 the Van Buren/Cass Health Department Director Jeff Elliott spoke to the I-Team about why Van Buren/Cass does not post restaurant inspections online.

““We’ve talked about that. We’ve talked about posting their scores. We’ve talked about the negative impacts for individuals who don’t feel their scores should be rated,” he said, during a portion of an interview what was unaired. “When you do that you’re pitting restaurants against other restaurants.”

The 2017 interview was related to an I-Team story looking at the resignation of the Van Buren/Cass food service supervisor Cary Hindley, who had resigned following concerns about lackluster inspections.


Kalamazoo, Calhoun, Barry, Allegan, Muskegon, Kent, and Ionia Counties provide restaurant inspections through this website, Sword Solutions.

Ottawa County displays restaurant inspections on its internal website.

***Van Buren/Cass Health District does not post restaurant inspections online.

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