All restaurants are required to post health ratings near entrances.
Patrons should look beyond the rating, however, and examine the reasons for the score, said Andrea Frazier, an environmental health inspector for the Columbia County Health Department.
Restaurants are graded on a 100-point scale. They receive an A for a score between 90 and 100, a B for 80 to 89, a C for 70 to 79 and a U for 69 and under.
The seriousness of a violation costs more points than lesser infractions.
Violations are separated into those that are risk factors for foodborne illnesses, which count between four and nine points, and those that represent good retail practices, which count between one and three points.
"You can have a restaurant that has an 89 but has employees with hair restraints on wrong, or might have some labeling issues on food," Frazier said. "Those things could put you down into the 80s, but are not risk factors for foodborne illnesses.
"Then you could have a restaurant that has a temperature violation, or an improper hand-washing procedure, or bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat food, which are more dangerous. Any one of those could give them a 91 right off the bat, but are larger risk factors that those violations of the restaurant with an 89."
When asked, restaurant employees must provide potential diners with the list of reasons behind the rating.
No Columbia County restaurant has a rating lower than a B, Frazier said.
During the past two weeks, 17 restaurants were inspected and all scored 80 or higher, including a Grovetown restaurant in danger of being asked to voluntarily shut its doors.
Goldtown Buffet, 5112-A Wrightsboro Road, repeatedly received C ratings and scored 64 on a July 1 inspection.
As of last week, though, it pulled that grade up to a 92.
"They really have worked hard to address some of their issues," Frazier said. "They've done a lot to make things simpler for themselves."
Had the restaurant again scored low, Frazier said the managers would have been asked to shut it down until its violations could be addressed.
Often, good restaurants can receive a low score.
In July, Evans restaurants Osaka Sushi and Poblano's received a 62 and a 69. On follow-up inspections, both returned to A ratings.
"It could be that they're having an off day, or it could be that they're having repetitive issues that need correcting," Frazier said. "Usually, though, the risk-based factors have been addressed."
Often, Frazier said, her department tutors troubled restaurants on how to follow proper procedures for serving the public.
"We are here to enforce the rules and laws, and we do that, but we provide as much education as we possibly can," she said.
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