Town fees will target repeat health code violators

In a move that might not sit well with restaurant owners, the town of Darien will begin charging fees when inspectors must return to a restaurant to confirm that health code violations have been addressed.

In addition, the approved regulatory change requires restaurants to prominently display their latest health inspection grade for customers to see or face potential hearings, Darien Health Director David Knauf said.

"The whole point is if they (the grades) are visible and people are posting the good ones, I'm hoping that is an incentive for restaurants with problems to do better," Knauf said. "I have no desire to enforce sanctions and be the food police, because we don't have to be doing that."

The regulatory change was approved unanimously by the Darien Board of Selectmen at their Monday night meeting and will apply whenever a restaurant fails two of its four inspections in a calendar year, Knauf said.

Knauf said this winter he began pursuing approval of the new fees, which equal half of the cost of a restaurant's annual health inspection permit, and that can range from $250 for a deli to $325 for facilities with 50 seats or more.

The regulation is aimed at repeat offenders who are taking up a disproportionate amount of time and attention of the town's two sanitarians, who keep tabs on restaurants, salons, swimming pools, septic systems and school cafeterias for cleanliness, Knauf said.

The change was prompted when seven facilities generated 50 inspections, including return visits to check violations; the normal number is 28, Knauf said.

"This regulation is intended to try to recoup some of the costs we face in doing reinspections for some facilities that seem to have bad habits if they are not checked regularly," Knauf said. "Most of the places we have are fine, but there are some that just seem to warrant more attention than others."

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When a restaurant or salon fails a health inspection, but then receives a better grade on a follow-up visit, sanitarians continue to make additional spot checks to walk through and spot any backsliding, Knauf said.

"It is another tool for us to try to get places that get sloppy or lazy to do a better job," Knauf said. "We've been doing this long enough to recognize situations that are out of the ordinary that don't really pose a risk to the public and a real problem."

Results of recent Darien restaurant inspections can be found under the heading `Food Inspection Program' at