BKD Report: How well do SA diners know inspection system?

KSAT's Behind the Kitchen Door investigates why SA Metro Health uses demerit system over letter grades


SAN ANTONIO – Diners who walked into most San Antonio restaurants should be able to spot a piece of paper, prominently displayed, that features a health inspection score.

It turns out, not all San Antonians know what that number really means.  

KSAT's Behind the Kitchen Door asked San Antonians if they know which inspection scores are good and bad.

KSAT chose 0 and 95 as examples at fictional restaurants.   

"Zero means nothing's wrong, right? I'd rather go to zero," said one diner. That person was correct, but a majority of people said 95.

"I'm not really surprised because most people are familiar with the old 100 point system where everyone started at 100," said Steve Barscewski with Metro Health.  

Barscewski said the state adopted a demerit system and revised the inspection form many years ago.

A big reason was anyone can perform an inspection in Texas. In rural areas, a doctor, a code officer or even a firefighter may be the one with the clipboard.

"The form was designed so that basically, a person with limited knowledge could walk into an establishment and at least look at the most important things," Barscewski said. That includes food temperatures, sanitation and pest control.

In San Antonio, more than 30 demerits is a failing score, but cities like New York and Los Angeles use a letter grade system. Barscewski says no one in Texas does letter grades and it's not planned for San Antonio either.

Barscewski said switching to letter grades would require a lengthy process to adopt a new city ordinance and they would have to implement of a new, time-consuming re-inspection system.

Metro Health will stick with demerits and hope local diners zero in on the system.

KSAT contacted the San Antonio Restaurant Association about health inspection scores. Executive Director Amanda Garcia said:

"Health grades are not necessarily the best method of measurement because they give an incomplete snapshot of a restaurant which could mislead potential customers. Public postings of health inspection results should be directly related to food safety. 'Pass or fail or closed' grade system rather than a number or letter grade system is the most accurate way of informing the public."

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