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Maricopa County's Restaurant Inspection Process Goes from Being Easy on Restaurants -- to Being Even Easier.

Maricopa County's Restaurant Inspection Process Goes from Being Easy on Restaurants -- to Being Even Easier.
Lauren Gilger

A Maricopa County health inspector walks into a Valley restaurant to conduct a routine health inspection. He turns to the chef and asks, "Would you like to participate in the county's restaurant awards system today?"

It's been a rough day at the restaurant. The chef is short-staffed, behind on lunch service and wondering how he can survive an inspection with the place in this state. It's very possible that there is a litany of violations waiting in the kitchen behind him - violations he'd rather not be made public.

Given the choice, what do you think the chef's answer will be?

Get the rest of the scoop on the county's new, laxer regulation system, after the jump.

This is the way the county's new (and supposedly improved) restaurant rating system, announced Friday, October 14, will work.

The county's roughly 19,000 eating and drinking establishments will get grades of A, B, C or D based on the number of food-safety violations they've racked up during their most recent county health inspection. That's good; it's a more specific rating system than the previous one.

But that might not matter one bit - because the new rating system is entirely voluntary.

While inspections will still be completed as always, "no restaurant is required to participate," says John Kolman, director of the County's Department of Environmental Services. "We want the industry to be rewarded for actively doing those things that they need to do to minimize food borne illness."

Unfortunately for the public, the alternative is also true. 

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Chef John Wong labels a container of flour as the Maricopa County Inspector watches at Sn Pacific Rim Asian Kitchen in Mesa.
Chef John Wong labels a container of flour as the Maricopa County Inspector watches at Sn Pacific Rim Asian Kitchen in Mesa.
Lauren Gilger

Two hours into a routine inspection of the kitchen of Sn Pacific Rim Asian Kitchen in Mesa, chef John Wong finds himself face to face with what could be a less-than-flattering rating.

But whatever rating is about to come down, he isn't going to post it. He never has.

He also plans to opt out of the new grading system, now that he can.

"I don't think people are really that into it," he says.

But what if the county were to require every restaurant to publicize its grade? "It would work," Wong admits. It would force him and his colleagues to change procedure because "you don't want B's or C's."

Or D's.

"It would make a health inspection more meaningful," he says, "-- to everyone."

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