Ensuring Food Safety in Santa Clara County by Partnering with Local Businesses   

Department of Environmental Health                                                                        
April 25, 2018
The County of Santa Clara serves more than 1.9 million residents among its 15 member cities and adjoining unincorporated areas. Residing within the Consumer and Environmental Protection Agency and at the heart of protecting the region’s growing and diverse community from foodborne illnesses is the Department of Environmental Health and its Food Safety Program.
The Food Safety Program monitors all retail food facilities in the county to ensure a safe and wholesome food supply for everyone. They oversee, inspect and permit all County food facilities, including restaurants, markets, bakeries, liquor stores, bars, stadiums and arenas, schools, homeless shelters, certified farmers' markets, food service at fairs and festivals, catering trucks, hot dog carts, ice cream trucks, and produce vehicles. In short, wherever residents dine outside their home, the Food Safety Program is there to ensure all laws and procedures are followed to prevent foodborne illnesses from spreading in the community.
The vast majority of inspections take place in traditional restaurant settings. In 2017, the County conducted 13,679 placarding inspections, of which more than 85 percent were unannounced visits.
Unannounced visits allow our inspectors to observe a snapshot of the day-to-day operation at a restaurant and assist businesses to institute best management practices to protect the public from foodborne illness.
- Rochelle Gaddi, Director of Consumer Protection Division, Department of Environmental Health
While consumer safety is the primary goal of the Food Safety Program, the agency also works diligently to educate and train food service establishments serving as a resource for the entire industry. Significant credit must go to the food service industry itself, as less than two percent of inspections result in a forced closure.  
When inspectors visit designated locations, whether a diner, a quick service restaurant or a bakery, they will leave one of three colored placards at the establishment designating the result of the inspection. Nearly 93 percent of inspections received a successful green placard, providing a clean bill of health to continue operating in a positive format. There may have been a few minor violations that require attention, but overall the business can display their green placard to demonstrate to their customers their sincere efforts to maintain a safe food operation.  
Around six percent of inspections are given a yellow placard which is more of a fix-it ticket, much like something a police officer would provide for a broken headlight. A yellow placard mandates certain violations be immediately fixed during the inspection. The company can remain open but must take proper measures to permanently remedy the violation before the scheduled reinspection. Failure to do so can result in an immediate closure.
As with any industry, there are always businesses that present more challenges to reach the safety standards set forth by the California Retail Food Code. This applies to only 1.9 percent of assessments, which amounts to 196 inspections out of 10,670 samples. While a small percentage, this group demands immediate attention and the establishment is immediately shut down pending remedial steps to correct the major violation(s).
A few important and very relevant issues are the cause of 86.7 percent of shutdowns. While not everyone’s favorite topic, vermin contamination constitutes 60 percent of forced closures. Whether it’s rats, mice or cockroaches, their presence is an indicator of behaviors that put the public at risk for foodborne illness. 
The second critical violation involves the lack of hot water in the restaurant. Thorough hand washing is a key firewall in eliminating foodborne illnesses in the restaurant business. Whether it’s hot water for handwashing or to properly clean food and wash dishes hot water is necessary for a safe operation.   Some fixes are an easy adjustment to a hot water heater and quickly resolves the situation and the business can reopen.
The County of Santa Clara’s goal is for all businesses to operate in a safe and healthy environment to benefit everyone who lives and visits the valley. Thus, quick and immediate actions by the offending dining location will enable the location to quickly reopen and thrive in the future.
We are dedicated to partnering with the food industry to create a successful business environment, while ensuring the health and safety of the families in our community.
- Michael Balliet, Director, Department of Environmental Health
No company is perfect, but perfection needs to be the goal for safe and healthy food service. There is an average of 3.7 violations per inspection, but many adjustments are simple and can be completed immediately.
The Food Safety Program may not be widely known by name from Palo Alto down to Gilroy, but quietly behind the scenes they do a stellar job of looking out for the County’s 1.9 million residents and they are proud to do their job every day.
We are a proud ally and resource for local businesses and an advocate for food safety throughout Santa Clara County.
- Rochelle Gaddi, Director of Consumer Protection Division, Department of Environmental Health
For more information please visit our Food Safety Program by clicking here or download our SCCDineOut mobile app.
Department of Environmental Health
The mission of the Department of Environmental Health is to promote, protect, and assure conditions for optimal health and public safety for residents and communities by educating and enforcing local, state, and federal environmental health laws and regulations.