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Making Restaurants Safer

Making Restaurants Safer

The Philadelphia Inquirer

Philadelphia’s Health Department is finally taking stronger steps to bolster inspections of restaurants with an eye toward improving food safety and cleanliness.

For that, diners who have ever eaten one spoiled mussel should be thankful.

Philadelphia has a well-deserved reputation as a fine restaurant city. But for too long, the city has trailed other big cities in the way it handles inspections of the more than 12,000 establishments that sell or serve food here.

The focus has been on examining the “floors, walls, ceilings” of each establishment, looking for chipped paint and other flaws.

Now, the Nutter administration is implementing a system that emphasizes how contamination spreads. Specifically, inspectors will target undercooked food and unwashed hands. The Health Department also plans to conduct more frequent inspections, an aspect in which Philadelphia has lagged behind other cities.

In 2006, the city was inspecting kitchens just once every 15.4 months. The new goal is to inspect the average restaurant twice a year.

Other big cities have had much more progressive inspection systems in place for years. Toronto, for example, has a color-coded system and posts the results in each restaurant.

Los Angeles gives restaurants letter grades. The system has been in place since 1998, and requires restaurants to post the grade and specific violations within five feet of the entrance.

In the four years before the system went into effect, the number of food-borne-disease hospitalizations increased slightly. After the first year of operation, the number declined almost 19 percent. Smaller declines occurred in the following years as well.

Other factors may have contributed to the drop in hospitalizations, such as an increase in inspections, additional training of inspectors, and educating restaurant owners.