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OUR VIEW: Posting of restaurant scores a good step

The state Department of Health has made a great stride in the name of public information by placing restaurant inspection scores online. It also is only halfway there.

Beginning in 2012, the Department of Health began posting its inspection scores from 2011 and 2012 on the Internet. Each time its inspectors make a visit to a restaurant -- generally twice a year or more -- they now post those scores to a website, for all to see.

In 2007, we penned an opinion piece wondering why this wasn't happening already. We felt the Department of Health was very much behind the times, and we still wonder why it took so long, but we'll take it. As noted, it's a great stride toward public openness.

Also in 2007, our editorial board wondered why a press release can't be sent out when a restaurant runs afoul of the Department of Health. After all, government agencies regularly issue press releases to tout businesses that fail and even pass -- yes, pass -- alcohol stings and other routine matters, but the government doesn't do a good job in telling citizens when a business fails its food-safety inspections.

It's just a question that seems unanswered. After all, aren't these inspections being done to protect the people who eat in the establishments? By not being fully forthcoming, it seems the inspectors are looking out more for the establishments than the public.

As for the Department of Health's website, we made a mental note of it and as a matter of annual routine, checked it earlier this month. We posted the scorecard for all to see in our Saturday edition, and we're proud to say that in more than 300 inspections in Mitchell since early 2011, only eight failing scores were reported. That's a 97 percent success rate.

We think that's pretty good, and we also note that in all but one case, the businesses that posted failing scores followed up with better marks in subsequent visits. One local restaurant with a failing score hasn't yet had a follow-up visit, or at least it hasn't yet been posted to the Department of Health website.

We commend the Department of Health for making these scores readily available to the public. In the past, they only were available by special request, and that was frustrating, to say the least. We still long for a better method of alerting the public when trouble arises, but we'll save that argument for another time.

Restaurants have an obligation to their patrons. When we visit a local eatery, we are placing our trust in their hands.

We hope those hands are clean -- literally and figuratively -- and if they aren't, we deserve to know.