Restaurant inspection changes in Philadelphia

Restaurant inspectors in Philadelphia have abandoned the "floors, walls, ceilings" focus and instead are phasing in a more scientific, "risk-based" approach that emphasizes food workers’ knowledge and behavior – do they know how contamination is spread and how to prevent it? – and calls for more frequent inspections of eateries that pose greater risks.

Don Sapatkin of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes this morning that Philadelphia is playing catchup in adopting changes that most counties around here have already made, in some cases many years ago. Yet the city’s new approach is expected to mean more inspections of the 12,621 establishments that sell or serve food – four times a year at institutional kitchens, for example – than most places.

Still, this region is hardly progressive compared to places like Toronto, which posts red, yellow or green signs in restaurants, or Los Angeles (A-B-Cs), or Denmark (smiley faces). No county in the Philadelphia region requires restaurants to post full inspection reports on location.

It’s not clear that food is any safer when there is greater transparency or even more frequent inspections, "but it does get people to think about food safety," said Doug Powell, an associate professor of food safety at Kansas State University who operates barfblog.

Don Schaffner, a professor of food microbiology at Rutgers University, said inspections traditionally have focused as much on appearance as on cooking temperatures. And they often made little distinction between sushi bars that serve raw fish and drug stores that sell prepackaged food.

"What we’ve learned over time is, not everything is equal.”

Ben Chapman, a food-safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University and a contributor to barfblog said prevention is really about "the culture of the restaurant”

Meaning, says Powell,

"If two workers are from the same restaurant (and go to the bathroom) and (only) one washes his hands, I want one to say to the other: ‘Dude, wash your hands.’ "