Hospitalizations From Food-Borne Illnesses Decline in Los Angeles County
Hospitalizations in Los Angeles County for the most common food-borne illnesses declined by 13.1% from 1993 to 2000, in part because of a restaurant-grading system instituted in 1998 in the county, according to a study in the March issue of Journal of Environmental Health, the Los Angeles Times reports.
For the study, researchers from the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services compared hospital data for infections from bacteria such as salmonella and campylobacter with information about 2,927 hospitalizations in Los Angeles County and 6,449 hospitalizations in other counties (Chong/Becerra, Los Angeles Times, 3/11).
The study found that hospitalizations from food-borne illnesses decreased from 382 in 1997 before the rating program began to 280 in 2000. According to the Los Angeles Daily News, the study found that the decrease in hospitalizations was "sustained over a three-year period" (Anderson, Los Angeles Daily News, 3/11).
Spurred in part by an undercover local television report that showed health hazards in some restaurants, county public health officials in 1998 began requiring that restaurants post near the entrance a letter grade corresponding with a restaurants' public health inspection rating.
Some opponents have said that the letter grades portray a "one-day snapshot" of a restaurant's condition, can be arbitrary and can be misinterpreted by customers, the Times reports.
Jonathan Fielding, county director of public health and co-author of the study, said the report shows that the grading system yields a "demonstrable public health benefit." He added, "What's really important here is we were able to show a reduction in hospitalizations due to food-borne illnesses, compared to state trends."
California Restaurant Association representative Andrew Casana said that the decline in hospitalizations is related to improvements in the county's inspection process rather than letter grades (Los Angeles Times, 3/11).