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Detroit restaurants would have to post their health grades publicly under proposed ordinance

Lobbyists can pick up the tab for legislators. Some legislators welcome the favor, others decline.
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A proposed ordinance in Detroit would require restaurants to post their health grades where visitors can see them.

Detroit City Council is considering an ordinance that would require restaurants in the city to post the results of their most recent health inspection.

The city-issued signs would need to be visible to people outside the restaurants. They might resemble signs required in New York City, with a letter grade indicating how a restaurant did during the inspection. The color-coded signs would also include a QR code so visitors can see the inspection results online.

Councilmember Scott Benson proposed the measure. He said the city has 15 health inspectors right now, and the council approved funding for two more.

"Once we get to those 17 inspectors, we're looking at one inspector for every 100 restaurants. Standard practice is about one inspector for every 150 restaurants," Benson said during a Tuesday city council meeting. "We're way above our ratio of what we need to be."

Benson also said he has found funding for at least 100 free training programs on safe food handling for restaurant employees. He said he hopes to find money for 400 trainings.

Bobby Whetstone, owner of the Detroit Blues Cafe, spoke in favor of the ordinance.

"If you got anything to hide, you wouldn't probably want the program. But I think it will be a good thing," he said during Tuesday's meeting.

Members of the Metro Detroit Black Business Alliance spoke against the measure.

"We did our research and we did our due diligence, and we've concluded that we cannot support this ordinance." said founder Charity Dean.

Clarence Gayles, with the Detroit Restaurant and Lodging Association also spoke against the ordinance.

"I think we're just putting a Band-Aid on if there is a problem. We need to be working with the health department to hire more health inspectors, an industry that's still coming out of the pandemic," he said. "Why are we putting another layer of bureaucracy onto our businesses in the city where we should be making the playing field a little bit more even? Detroit would be an outlier with this food grading ordinance."

Detroit would be the first in the state to have this sort of grading system, according to Benson.

Representatives of the organizations that opposed the measure also expressed concerns that the city's health inspectors would not be able to return to the restaurants in a timely fashion, so some restaurants would be stuck with a lower grade for an extended period of time if they got one.

Malik Shabazz spoke in favor of the ordinance. "We have dealt with Coney Island's restaurants, fly infestations, rodent infestations. I can't see why anyone would possibly be against this. Detroiters are a first class people. We deserve clean, healthy, wholesome food and treatment and service. And I think that this will help us to go along that way."

Detroit City Council members delayed the vote for another week to discuss it.

If approved, the ordinance would take effect on May 1, 2023.

Briana Rice is Michigan Public's criminal justice reporter. She's focused on what Detroiters need to feel safe and whether they're getting it.
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