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Since You Asked: Eateries start with 'clean slate'

So if we read between the lines of the editor's note above the restaurant inspections in Sunday's paper, it just got easier for restaurants to continue operating. Which things no longer count against their scores and how does this possibly serve the public?

— Gary G., via email

At first glance, it's easy to conclude that the 2009 Food and Drug Administration Food Code, which the state adopted last month, gives restaurants a break.

Issues that no longer count against establishments' scores — although inspectors do keep track of them — are described as "general sanitation, operational controls, sanitation-standard operating procedures, facilities or structures, equipment design or general maintenance," according to an explanation from Jackson County Environmental Public Health Services. By not subtracting points for these, inspectors no longer penalize older facilities with worn equipment and surfaces that otherwise may practice conscientious food-handling, says Jackson Baures, division manager for the county. In a way, the new scoring system is less subjective.

"A worn floor can look different from one inspector to another," says Chad Petersen, county environmental-health specialist.

One reason behind so many perfect scores last month, says Petersen, is state officials' decision to start all restaurants with a "clean slate" under the new system, meaning they weren't accountable for violations repeated from the previous inspection.

But the new system allows inspectors, in some cases, to subtract more points than before for "priority" and "priority foundation" items, which directly relate to preventing foodborne illness and controlling risk factors.

Send questions to "Since You Asked, A la carte" Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com.