Since You Asked: Inspectors work with restaurants

It seems that few local restaurants fail their inspections. But I was surprised to see in June one that failed not only its initial inspection but two re-inspections a few days later, yet it remained in business.

How many times can a restaurant fail inspection before it's closed? Does the board of health hold that authority? Why are multiple failures and inspections allowed?

— Dave S., via e-mail

The simple answer to your question is that Oregon law allows restaurants to log multiple failures and re-inspections without being closed. County health departments enforce the statewide regulations.

"We uphold the law, and if they're within the law, they can do business," says Jackson Baures, division manager for Jackson County Environmental Health.

The law requires establishments that fail two consecutive semiannual inspections to undergo quarterly inspections, which they must pass consecutively for an entire year before they can return to the twice-yearly schedule.

Health inspectors have the authority to close a restaurant if it fails to comply with two consecutive inspections within a period of 30 days, Baures says. In practice, inspectors use their discretion and most often work with restaurants to correct critical violations without requiring the business to close its doors. However, the establishment must post a notice indicating that it failed to comply with the health code.

"Rarely are they closed at all," Baures says.

Restaurants are subject to immediate closure if they are identified as the source of an outbreak of food-borne illness, which is difficult to verify, Baures says. Incidentally, Oregon's system of pass-fail allows consistently low-scoring restaurants to remain open without repercussions.

"You can continue to do poorly as long as you keep correcting the (critical) items," Baures says.

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