Color-coded signs to warn diners over health violations

Contra Costa County food handlers will be posting color-coded signs as soon as April to inform patrons about health code violations, a county health department announced Tuesday.

Green, yellow and red placards, which will be posted starting April 15, will offer residents a view of how facilities performed on a recent inspection, according to the Environmental Health division of Contra Costa Health Services.

The county’s Board of Supervisors unanimously approved this program through an ordinance during its Tuesday meeting.

Supervisor Candace Andersen said:

“This is an important step to help the public make informed decisions when dining or shopping in our county. … Placards make it easy for anyone to know a business’s food safety record, just by looking in the window.”

The signs are an illustration of “serious violations” found during the last regular health inspection. These violations may consist of improperly sanitized kitchen equipment or workers handling food while ill or with unwashed hands, county health officials said.

Green signs represent zero or one of these violations while yellow is for those with two or more. Red placards are reserved for businesses shut down because of an imminent health hazard.

Violations that pose an imminent health hazard, among other things, could be a vermin infestation, county health officials said.

County health officials said this program was modeled after others already underway in the Bay Area, such as in Alameda, Santa Clara, San Mateo, Marin and Sonoma counties.

Environmental Health Director Marilyn Underwood said in a statement:

“Other cities and counties that use placarding programs have seen a decline (in foodborne illness). … Making inspection results highly visible appears to have an impact on making businesses that sell food operate more safely.”

The county Environmental Health division regulates about 4,000 retail food permit holders, most of which — including grocery stores — will receive placards after their next post-April 15 inspection.

Some businesses, such as supermarkets that have delis and bakeries, will have multiple placards that correspond to different sections of the business, county health officials said.

There will be training offered for those restaurants and other food facilities that repeatedly struggle to obtain green placards, county health officials said.