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For some Orange County restaurants, inspections may be only once per year

Eating at restaurants in Orange County may have just gotten a bit riskier.

A fee increase needed to maintain the current rate of restaurant inspections in Orange County was rejected Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors.

During the six years since the last fee hike, county Health Care Agency inspections for restaurants and other food handling establishments have fallen from three annually to two because of staff reductions. Now, some restaurants will be inspected just once a year, according to Richard Sanchez, the county’s assistant director of health.

Supervisors also turned down an option to replace single-color inspection placards at the entrance to restaurants to ones that would be red, yellow or green. The color-coded alternative was intended to make diners more aware of an establishment’s inspection status.

“This is not the right time to increase fees, given the state of the economy,” Supervisor Todd Spitzer said after the meeting. “I don’t see this jeopardizing health at all. There’s no public outcry from the public to increase fees.”

The sole supervisor supporting the fee increase was John Moorlach, whose motion to increase fees and implement the red-yellow-green placards died for lack of a second, with no discussion. He was asked about Spitzer’s comment that public health would not be endangered.

“It’s not important until you walk out of a restaurant with a foodborne disease,” Moorlach said. “Then you think maybe there should be hot water, maybe there shouldn’t be cockroaches.”

The Health Care Agency is responsible for inspecting all of the 13,800 food facilities countywide, including restaurants, grocery stores, bars and convenience stores. It must cover its inspection costs with fees generated from those food-handling businesses. Fees start at about $561 annually for a restaurant with 30 seats or fewer. 

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