Fábregas: Restaurant inspection grading system gets an F
There's nothing more unpleasant than being at a restaurant and finding a hair in your chicken noodle soup. Or going to the restroom at said restaurant to find there's no soap or paper towel. It has happened to all of us. (You don't want to hear what I've seen at some restaurants.)
Truth is that when we eat out, we trust that cooks and workers are doing everything they can to protect us from getting sick — or grossed out. That goes for storing ingredients at the proper temperature, making sure there's no raw chicken touching the lettuce, and keeping the place clean.
In Allegheny County, we've had a pretty decent system in place that requires restaurants and other facilities that prepare food to undergo inspections by the Health Department. For reasons that I still can't understand, county officials want to modify that by adding a grading system similar to what students get in school — A, B and C.
The Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association finds the proposal hard to swallow. It says that placing stickers with grades at a restaurant entrance can be misleading and ruin a business.
The association has a point. The group says inspectors might give a “B” to a restaurant based on point deductions that have little to do with food safety or health issues. For example, inspectors might deduct points if mops and brooms are not stored properly, or if there's too much smoke venting to the outside.
Health officials have said the grading system is not meant to be punitive. But do you know anyone who wants to eat at a “C” restaurant? I don't.
Restaurant owners have plenty of other worries. They say typical inspection visits last roughly an hour and a half, yet the grade would remain for a year.
I got my hands on the 15-page list of issues that inspectors intend to examine. Although it is thorough, I don't see how one letter grade could possibly explain to consumers the complexity of the inspections. Inspectors are expected to review everything from leaky water fixtures to food thermometers and workers' uniforms.
So the grade is not a simple ranking of a restaurant's quality, but rather one that considers many issues. This is a grade that consumers might notice in passing, without realizing what it means. I wouldn't be surprised if some people see an “A” on a restaurant door and interpret that to mean it serves first-rate steaks or exceptional pierogies.
There is, without a doubt, a need for oversight from health experts. There must be a watchful eye that ensures customers won't be exposed to food-borne illnesses and other dangers.
The Health Department posts on its website inspection reports that provide more detail than you'll care to know about your favorite restaurants. You can find out which restaurants are infested with mice, which have been cited for sewage in the basement, or which serve spoiled broccoli soup. The reports have a color-coded system: green for those that passed inspection, yellow for those where an alert was issued, and red for those ordered to close.
These reports are easy to find and quite entertaining, unless you get queasy reading about insects or gnaw marks on kitchen walls.
Grading systems are not necessarily bad. They're used effectively in New York City and parts of California. But I get the feeling we're looking to fix something that isn't broken. Let's make sure customers can understand the grades. Otherwise, the system will earn an F.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com 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.
- LaBar: WWE not backing down from controversy
- LCB, Duquesne University police recover rare bourbon in illegal sale
- 3 in Westmoreland charged in painkiller ring
- St. Agnes students assist food bank during Catholic Schools Week
- Former Century III Mall general manager waives charges
- Driver leaps from sliding truck just before it topples down hillside in Fawn
- Stat dropoff, road struggles have Penguins seeking consistency
- Overall Mon-Yough homicide stats remain steady
- End the Toneys’ reign
- BNY Mellon is putting iconic Citizens Bank Tower up for sale
- Kennametal plans plant closings, job cuts in fallout from oil and gas decline