ShareThis Page

Board of Health OKs test run of restaurant grading system

| Wednesday, May 7, 2014, 3:36 p.m.

Select restaurants will be part of a new Allegheny County Health Department grading system this summer that tags facilities with a letter grade of A, B or C based on cleanliness and quality.

The Allegheny County Board of Health approved a proposal on Wednesday for a 30-day pilot program.

Pending any issues and final approval by County Council, the grading system would affect as many as 9,000 food service facilities as early as September, or about 85 percent of food providers countywide, officials said.

The board chairman, Dr. Lee Harrison, told members there is “no downside to a pilot program.” No scores will be publicly posted during the trial period, he said.

The program will take place in July and August, with revisions to the grading policy as needed. The number of restaurants participating isn't decided.

Glenda Christy, a consultant hired to develop the grading system, said the first phase will begin this month with staff training, policy updates and computer programming.

The Board of Health is scheduled to consider the system for final approval in September; council would pick up discussion later that month.

Council has 60 days to approve the plan, said Karen Hacker,county Health Department director. Implementation would begin within the following month.

Board member Tony Ferraro was the lone nay in a 7-1 vote. He objected to a hard and fast timeline, he said.

“This is something we need to start on now,” said fellow member Joan Cleary.

Years in the making and the first of its kind in Pennsylvania, the system awards and subtracts points in one-, three-, and five-point intervals depending on the risk the infractions pose to public health. Restaurants can earn bonus points and, in the first year, schedule re-inspections before letter grades lower than an A are posted publicly.

The pilot phase will exempt schools, nursing homes and personal care boarding homes, Christy said.

Publicly posted restaurant grades are common elsewhere, including New York City, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina and parts of California and Washington.

County health officials rejected a similar proposal in 2011. County Executive Rich Fitzgerald pushed for the system since taking office in 2012.

In other business, the board lifted a ban on needle exchanges within 1,500 feet of schools within Pittsburgh city limits. The policy may extend to county borders eventually, but Hacker said the need is most pressing in densely populated areas.

Hacker announced a hearing on Thursday for Davin Gartley, the landlord whose Carrick apartments were forcibly vacated when tenants, many of them Bhutanese refugees, reported sewage backups flooding yards. Gartley has not addressed issues on the property, Hacker said.

Megan Harris is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-388-5815 or

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.