Allegheny County PA to post restaurant grades

A couple of years ago a colleague at the vet college shared a story with me about restaurant grades. He and his son went into a local sushi place and it was dead – they had no problem getting a seat during the usually busy lunch rush. He asked the manager what was up and she said that business had been down since they had been given a low score during a routine inspection. That made my friend pause a bit; they still ordered lunch and ate, but hadn’t been back. NC_inspection_grades

I guess some folks do make choices based on posted restaurant grades.

Allegheny County Pennsylvania is debating a new restaurant inspection disclosure system, including a magical matrix for what will generate an A, B or C. According to TribLIVE, excellent food handling procedures will net an A, a B represents generally good procedures, and potential risks will generate a C. Tough to evaluate without the specifics – but risk factors matter more to me than “good procedures.”

The county’s Board of Health on Monday will hear initial plans for a program to post A, B or C grades outside restaurants starting in September, said Jim Thompson, deputy director of environmental health. “There will be a significant number of Bs and Cs,” Thompson said.
About half of the county’s 7,200 permitted establishments had at least one violation last year, and about 5 percent have three or more violations, Thompson said.

“The inspection itself is the same. The food regulation is the same, but we are translating what we find into a format that the customers really understand,” said Dr. Lee Harrison, the [Allegheny Board of Health] chairman.

John Graf, owner of The Priory in the North Side and president of the Western Chapter of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, said a C grade posted outside some restaurants would shut them down and B grades could cause confusion among customers.
“Based on the matrixes I’ve seen, a surprising number of restaurants will end up with Bs,” Graf said. “What does a B mean? What does it mean for the customer? Is it safe?”

Joe Bello, executive chef and general manager at The Wooden Nickel Restaurant in Monroeville, said he sees positives and negatives to a grading system. He worries that something unforeseeable or uncontrollable during an inspection could drop a restaurant’s grade unfairly. But he thinks grades could motivate restaurants to pay closer attention to health and safety regulations.

Braden Mackey, 23, of Mt. Washington welcomes the idea of letter grades posted outside restaurants. He typically relies on Internet reviews when investigating restaurants. A grade of C, he said, would not deter him from ordering from a menu.

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About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.