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Why does Florida use pass/fail for health inspections, not actual grades?

After a local news outlet reported seven Tampa Bay-area Publix grocery stores failed health inspections, the Department of Agriculture pulled all pass/fail grades and inspections from the online database.

“I believe that the pass/fail system is unclear because if it’s a failure, why is it still open?” Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam explained to WFTS-TV.

Which raises the question: Why is the state using a pass/fail instead of a simple grading system?

Most regions use either a letter or number grade for restaurant and other health department ratings; restaurants in California and New York are often seen posting “A” scores in full view of patrons and passersby.

Putnam finally decided to kill pass/fail for grocery stores, bakeries and convenience store, which Wendy Ryan of WFTS suggests could be linked to $354,000 in campaign contributions he received from Publix over the past two decades, including flying on the Publix personal jet in 2015.

“Of course not,” Putnam said when asked if the two were connected, “any more than anyone else’s contributions influence. You have to follow the law and do what’s right by the people.”

“I think we need to have a grading scale that is more reflective of the conditions in that store,” he said, “so that the consumers are aware and can make their shopping decisions accordingly.”

It doesn’t help that a transition to a new system will make it difficult for the average consumer to know exactly what is happening at a location. For example, if there happens to be a serious violation, re-inspection or some other discipline, Ryan says, there is now way to know since the state posts no grades anymore.

Nevertheless, Putnam promises the new system will be better. How could it be any worse?

“That’s why the pass/fail system is a failure because an industry leader [which Putnam openly admits is Publix], who has highly trained and highly qualified, nationally renowned food safety standards ought not be mislabeled based on minor infractions.”

The problem is, under the pass/fail system, those Publix violations were not simply “minor infractions.” A grade score could give a better idea of what is going on.

In November, WFTS found through state inspection records that the Publix stores failing in 2016 had significant “priority violations” – including rodent droppings, dangerous food temperatures and other food safety issues.

So how soon will this new (and hopefully improved) grading system be in place?

Putnam’s response: “I’m very aggressive about this, and I’m pushing them to come up with something very quickly.”

Just be glad we aren’t grading Putnam’s performance here – pass, fail or somewhere in between.

Written By

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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