Tarrant County Public Health uses the current Texas Food Establishment Rules TAC 25 ch. 228 available at https://www.dshs.state.tx.us/foodestablishments/laws-rules.aspx
The inspection sheet has three categories of violations. The most critical items are the Priority Items group which includes items that represent a serious and possibly immediate threat to health (temperature abuse, contamination etc.). A violation in this section would count as three demerits. The next group of items Priority Foundation, valued at 2 demerits each, is also extremely important and relates to knowledge and understanding, safety documentation and cleaning. The third group, Core Items consists of violations mostly related to physical conditions and equipment with a value of 1 demerit per item.
We are trying to focus attention on food safety items by scoring only items that directly cause problems. Many items that people may see, such as dirty dining area floors, may appear bad but they do not actually affect the safety of the food. Such an item could be marked under the non-scored section but it would not show up in the score.
Many people are used to scores based on subtracting the demerit points from 100; as when an establishment had 25 demerits reporting out as “Scored a seventy-five.” The current method does not subtract from any arbitrary number, instead we just report out the number of points ‘demerited’. This is done because some establishments, e.g. bars, would have several items that would not apply and they would therefore get “free” points added to their scores when comparing them to a full-service establishment.
A rule of thumb is that any score of 30 demerits would represent a very serious condition and could result in action to suspend the permit. Unfortunately, the numerical score is just an indicator. A single violation can cause immediate closure. An example would be sewage backing up into a restaurant. The establishment could be perfectly clean otherwise and well run but would be closed immediately until proper corrections had taken place. This would only be a three-point demerit. Conversely an establishment may have a numerically high demerit score but during the inspection the problems are corrected (COS =corrected on-site). Despite a high demerit score, the establishment would be allowed to remain open but would be listed for rapid follow-up inspections. An establishment that has limited, safe food handling but looks terrible, would not have a bad score despite a public perception that it is “filthy”. The inspection score represents health related problems, not appearance.
We generally discourage looking purely at the number, but 10 demerits or less is a reasonably good score. Thirty demerits is a serious situation requiring a follow-up inspection. Unfortunately, the specific circumstances are vital to the interpretation. If someone scores more than thirty demerits and it cannot be significantly improved while the inspection continues then a “notice of intent to suspend” may be issued. In such a case, the operator will be called in for a hearing. Normally a plan for improvement is approved and the establishment makes the changes and continues to operate under increased scrutiny.