Restaurant scores on the ballot

One man is on a mission to help customers put their money where the healthiest restaurants are in town.

Ashland resident John Jory says the city's restaurant owners should be willing to convert their establishments' county health inspections from numerical scores into A, B or C grades &

and post their letter grades so customers may judge for themselves. Currently, restaurants are required to post only whether they passed or failed an inspection.

"There are over 100 restaurants within city limits. There are usually only about 10 who are a C grade," said Jory. "Some of them never get out of the C grade. I want to give them an impetus to clean up."

One bad meal at a C-level restaurant last year was enough to motivate Jory to gather more than 1,800 signatures, which will place his proposed measure on November's city ballot.

Jory, 70, who is retired from the computer industry, declined to name the restaurant that allegedly sickened him.

"I got sick. And let's just say it wasn't pleasant," Jory said.

"I found out later it was (rated at) 75 with six critical violations. I never would have eaten at that restaurant if I'd known it was a C."

The matter will go before the city's voters on November's ballot, said Jory. If it passes in Ashland, Jory would like to see similar ordinances passed throughout the state.

Jory's proposed ordinance is not only unnecessary, it could be unfairly punitive, says Drew Baily, Southern Oregon regional representative for the Oregon Restaurant Association.

Baily met with a dozen Ashland restaurateurs on Tuesday to discuss the ordinance, he said.

"We are all opposed to it," Baily said.

Local restaurants' numerical scores are already frequently featured in the Mail Tribune, Baily said. They are available at and also on Jackson County's Web site.

"Anyone can go look them up right now," Baily said.

The restaurant association was able to convince the state's lawmakers to discontinue the letter grading system in Oregon in favor of the current pass/fail system. Other states, including Calif., still maintain the letter system.

"It's been shown to work," Jory said. "A and B businesses get more business. And some C businesses clean up. It provides a financial consideration."

But Baily said forcing Ashland restaurants to publicly post grades could be unfair for those that "make a lot of food from scratch and have a lot of employees."

Violations range from serving spoiled food to having a staff member sipping from a cup without a lid or a straw. Each can bring down scores, Baily said. Human error creates opportunities for health inspectors to lower a restaurant's grade for noncritical violations which "have nothing to do with food-borne illnesses," Baily said.

Conversely, he said, the posting system tends to favor establishments like Starbucks that "make no food from scratch."

"Basically all they're doing is keeping milk cold," he said.

The two key areas of concern for the public should be a restaurant's ability to maintain proper food temperatures and have their staff perform scrupulous hand washing, said Ron Roth, owner of Geppetto's Restaurant in Ashland.

Roth has been in the food business for 31 years &

long enough to see the letter grade system come and go in Oregon, he said.

"It used to be that way," Roth said. "Most places (in Ashland) were rated A. A few were B. We were usually an A."

Although his restaurant got good marks, Roth says the idea of re-establishing the letter grades "is an unnecessary layer of proposed bureaucracy."

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