Dumbass files: They’re not microbiologists, they’re just Penguins fans who eat raw catfish to celebrate title

Scott Allen of The Washington Post reports that fans took to the streets of Pittsburgh to celebrate the Penguins’ second consecutive Stanley Cup title on Sunday night, and a few of them brought catfish, which became a symbol of the runner-up Predators’ improbable postseason run.

In a tradition that dates from 2003, Nashville supporters tossed catfish onto the ice during the playoffs, and sometimes went to great lengths to smuggle the fish into the arena.

Rather than waving the seafood around in revelry like a smelly, guts-filled Terrible Towel, or, I don’t know, stomping on the bottom feeders, more than one Penguins fan was pictured devouring a raw, bloody catfish during Sunday’s celebration. Look, I get it. Deep-frying those bad boys or firing up an electric grill in the middle of a large crowd would’ve been dangerous, but besides being absolutely disgusting, consuming raw catfish doesn’t seem like the safest idea. When was the last time you saw catfish on a sushi menu?


The non-hockey fan’s guide to this year’s Stanley Cup Final

This is not the hockey I grew up watching, where players had a smoke and a beer between periods. This is fast, fun and furious.

And if Nashville can embrace hockey (the ice kind for my Aussie friends) so can anyone.

Pete Blackburn of Fox Sports writes:

So, what sport is this now?


Isn’t that the Canadian thing with the ice and skates that no one seems to care about?

Well, some of us care, and not just in Canada. But yes, it’s played on ice. 

But why should I care now? 

Because playoff hockey is amazing and one of the greatest viewing experiences in sports. At the end of the Stanley Cup Final all the players say the f-word on TV as they pass around giant trophy that everybody gets to kiss. It’s a lot of fun.

So, who is playing in this “Stanley Cup Final?”

The Pittsburgh Penguins and the Nashville Predators.

Wait, you mean to tell me Nashville, Tennessee has a hockey team?

Yep! They’re quite good and the city has grown to love them. It’s becoming a really fun hockey town and their crowds are wild and loud. They probably have one of the best playoff atmospheres in hockey. They’re really good at shouting mean things at opposing players in unison.

You also mean to tell me that there are “hockey towns” in the United States?

Yes, and this Final features two pretty good ones. In fact, a Canadian team hasn’t won the Stanley Cup since 1993. 

That must be embarrassing for them.

Yeah, let’s not get into that.

Well, which one of these teams is better?

Well, the Penguins are the defending champions and they have a very good team with a few of the best players in the world (Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin) so they’re slight favorites to win the Stanley Cup, even though they’re without their best defenseman (Kris Letang).

So I should root for them?  

Sure, if you want to. They’re great at scoring goals (fun!) and it would be the first time in nearly 20 years that a team has won the Cup in back-to-back years.

How many Cups have the Predators won?

Zero. This is the first time they’ve even made it to the Final. 

So they’re a bunch of losers?

No, that’s the Capitals. The Predators are just sort of new to the party. They’ve only been a team since 1997. The Penguins were founded 30 years before that. Nashville has a bright future.

Do the Predators actually have a chance? 

Some of their better offensive players got hurt earlier in the playoffs but they’ve still got talented scorers like Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson and James Neal. They definitely still have a chance, mainly because their defense is so good, and that tends to be a huge factor in the playoffs.

Defense is for nerds.

Somewhat agree, but the Predators defense is pretty good at scoring goals themselves. They’ve got a few impressive defensemen that are good at creating offense, including P.K. Subban.

P.K. what now? 

Pernell-Karl Subban. He’s on the Predators and is one of the best defensemen in the league. He scores a lot of goals and usually has awesome celebrations afterward. Plus, he’s funny and is really nice to sick kids. He once pledged to raise $10 million for a children’s hospital.

Oh, wow. Who wouldn’t love that guy?



Well, he was actually traded to Nashville last summer by Montreal in a really surprising deal. He kinda got unfairly blamed for some of their disappointing playoff finishes and a lot of people think the Canadiens didn’t like his “character issues.” 

What kind of character issues? Isn’t this the sport where the grown men are allowed to punch each other in the face?

Yeah, but some people apparently think that Subban is a clown for attracting attention to himself by having a lot of fun. The thought was that he “doesn’t hate to lose” enough. So they traded him for an older, more boring guy named Shea Weber.

How did that work out? 

Well, the Predators are playing for the Stanley Cup and Montreal lost in the first round.

Oh. Yikes.


Is there anyone like that on the Penguins?

Well, a guy named Phil Kessel won a Stanley Cup in his first season with the Penguins last year. He’s awesome and goofy and really good at scoring goals. Toronto basically ran him out of town, too.

Why did they do that?

The team stunk so some of the media unfairly pinned it on him and said he was lazy, didn’t care enough and ate too many hot dogs.

Wait, what?

Nevermind. Let’s just move on. 

So, yeah, you should definitely watch the Stanley Cup Final. You’ll either get to see a new-ish team with a wild fan base win their first-ever championship, or you’ll get to see some legends become the first repeat champions in almost two decades. Either way, it should be really fun and exciting, even if you’re not a big hockey fan.

But it sounds like both of these teams are enjoyable and likeable. Who do I choose?

Do you care about uniforms?

No, what kind of adult cares about sports uniforms? 

I do. A lot.

Nerd. Who has the better uniforms? 

Pittsburgh, by a mile. Their jerseys are some of the nicer ones in the league. The Predators dress like bottles of spicy mustard.

Go Predators.

Go Penguins.

Despite some first period jitters in game 1, I predict Predators in 7. And stay away from my bench (upper left, a look I perfected on graduate students who would submit writing but they hadn’t really tried; I’d get through one page and respond, try again).

Would you eat at a restaurant with a ‘C’ on the door?

One burger joint in Pittsburgh has repeatedly kept raw hamburger meat, lettuce and coleslaw at temperatures that allow bacteria to flourish. A chain restaurant’s worst violations in the past three years were a missing floor tile and a dirty floor drain.

first-date-pittsburgh-foodBoth restaurants have maintained their approved-to-operate green stickers from the Allegheny County Health Department, but one would’ve earned a ‘C’ and the other an ‘A’ if the county’s attempts to institute a restaurant grading system had passed.

Nearly all of the roughly 4,200 restaurants in the county have a green sticker — no matter whether it had five high-risk health violations in its last inspection or none.

There have been two failed attempts, most recently in May, to pass an A-B-C restaurant grading system that could give consumers more refined health information at a key decision-making point — entering a restaurant.

Although the Allegheny County Health Department supported the change, the county council voted the A-B-C system down 12-1. Everyone who spoke at the meeting opposed the measure. Most were from the restaurant industry.

PublicSource wondered why there was so little support for the measure when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates about one in six people get a foodborne-related illness a year.

So, we acquired the criteria for the potential grading system and records of health inspections from July 2014 through April 2015. The result of combining the two is a look at how county restaurants would have scored under the letter grading system.

About three-quarters of nearly 5,000 restaurant inspections in the county would’ve resulted in an ‘A’, according to the PublicSource analysis.

About 18 percent of inspections would’ve earned a ‘B’ and 6 percent would’ve gotten a ‘C’ grade. A ‘C’ grade could include multiple high-risk violations, such as cutting lettuce on the same surface as raw meat, in addition to several medium- and low-risk violations.

The analysis started with July 2014 because that’s when inspectors started assigning a level of severity to each health inspection violation.

The analysis showed there were 57 inspections in that 10-month period that would’ve fallen below a ‘C’ and warranted an alert or closure by the health department.

imagesThe health department actually issued just 11 consumer alerts and closed 11 restaurants.

“When we examined the number of violations that were occurring on first inspection and also the number of repeat visits that we were being required to do, it was very apparent that there needed to be changes made” to the inspection system, said Dr. Karen Hacker, head of the Allegheny County Health Department.

But the county council voted the measure down. “The council represents the populace so we must abide by that decision,” Hacker said.

Allegheny County has a green, yellow and red system, which basically operates as a pass or fail method.

Green means a restaurant is permitted to operate; yellow means the health department issued an alert to warn consumers about poor health conditions; and red means the restaurant was ordered to close.

It wasn’t always this way. Pittsburgh had an A-B-C grading system, along with many other cities, after World War II. Allegheny County instituted its current system in 1994.

Kevin Joyce, owner of The Carlton Restaurant, a white-tablecloth restaurant in downtown Pittsburgh, was a chief opponent of the recent proposal to change the system. He said, “I think what a green rating means is that it’s a place that’s safe to eat — that the county’s inspected it and it’s safe to eat.”

However, as PublicSource found, there’s a wide spectrum of cleanliness in the kitchen among restaurants operating with a green sticker.

About 18 percent of inspections would have resulted in a perfect score during the 10-month period studied, while 12 percent had at least two-high risk violations in a single inspection.

The most common high-risk violations include not following cleanliness guidelines and not keeping food hot or cold enough.

Several of the city’s well-known chefs and restaurant owners declined to be interviewed about the grading system.

Consumers might not be aware of problems at restaurants unless they go to the health department’s website to view inspection reports.

John Graf, who owns the Priory Hotel on the North Side and is vice chair of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association board, said the inspection reports provide the best information to consumers.

“How long does it take to go to the county website?” Graf said. “People are on Google or Facebook for hours on end, you know, use your smartphone and look it up. I don’t see that that’s a huge barrier.”

Doug Powell, a former food safety professor at Kansas State University and co-author of the food safety blog BarfBlog, said health information is most effective at the point of sale.

“The value of grading systems at the door is that most people make decisions when they walk up to the restaurant,” Powell said. “They’re not going to look online. Lots of places have tried putting up websites and other things, but most people are going to make decisions when they go to the door.”

As an alternative, the Allegheny County Health Department is exploring the idea of putting QR codes on restaurants, so someone with a smartphone could scan the code and see the restaurant’s health inspections.

Pittsburgh: a disappointment in hockey and restaurant inspection disclosure

As Pittsburgh continues to grapple with restaurant inspection disclosure – or not — the town of Little Elm, Texas, has decided to add QR codes to the technology that is being utilized by its health services department, in order to help to improve efficiency when it comes to the effort to maintain transparency with restaurant inspection results.

QR-code-SCANVenger-Hunt-300x169Way to go Pittsburgh, you’ve been upstaged by Little Elm. Texas. That’s gotta hurt.

Through the use of this new system, it is possible for people to be able to scan the unique QR codes posted with the inspection signage for each restaurant. Upon scanning, the user will be directed to a website that contains the inspection notes that were made for the restaurant about which the mobile device user is inquiring. This system also allows the results of the inspections to be updated and distributed nearly immediately.

The QR codes based program is based on the same one that has become quite popular in nearby Plano.

The information about a restaurant’s inspection is updated by way of the QRcode as soon as it is complete. This way, residents and visitors to the town will be able to check on the latest scores for that restaurant within a matter of seconds. This, according to Mike Green, the community integrity director.

Green explained by providing an example that said “Let’s say we’re in the kitchen doing the inspection, and you pull into the parking lot of that restaurant,” adding that “As soon as we finish the inspection, the score changes online. You can literally see the newest score of the place you’re about to eat at while you’re in the parking lot.”

A growing number of municipalities are incorporating QR codes into their restaurant inspection systems as it is a highly cost efficient way to upload and share the information with the public.


Pittsburgh says no to restaurant grading system

Toronto, New York and Los Angeles have all figured out how to do restaurant inspection grading and make it available on the door.

health_dept_stickerPittsburgh? Not so much.

The restaurant grading system plan went down in Allegheny County Council by a vote of 12-1. And that’s what local restaurant owners were hoping.

“I’m pretty happy. It’s a big weight off a lot of people’s shoulders, I’m sure,” said Robert Storms, the owner of Storms Restaurant.

The plan was approved by the Allegheny County Health Department last September.

The Allegheny County Board of Health thought grades would give diners more food safety informationthan the current pass-fail system.

But restaurants fought the plan every step of the way right up to Tuesday night’s vote.

“This discussion is not about increasing the knowledge and training of food service workers, rather it is about catching, punishing and embarrassing,” said Kevin Joyce, of The Carlton.

Some feared a couple of minor infractions could result in a “B” grade, giving diners the wrong impression.

“I firmly believe that if one of my restaurants receives a grade lower than an ‘A,’ that it will not simply affect that particular restaurant, but it will affect our entire brand,” said Mike Mitcham, of Primanti Bros.

larry.the_.cable_.guy_.health.inspector-213x300The health board’s motive was to incentivize restaurants to strictly follow the rules.

Ryan Bidney, of Irwin, who was visiting Station Square Tuesday, backs that.

“The restaurant, knowing that that letter grade is gonna be presented, I believe that they’ll feel stronger about, you know, wanting to keep up with their standards and keep their standards higher,” said Bidney.

Pittsburgh, there is research on this stuff.

 Filion, K. and Powell, D.A. 2009.

The use of restaurant inspection disclosure systems as a means of communicating food safety information.

Journal of Foodservice 20: 287-297.


barf.o.meter_.dec_.12-216x300The World Health Organization estimates that up to 30% of individuals in developed countries become ill from food or water each year. Up to 70% of these illnesses are estimated to be linked to food prepared at foodservice establishments. Consumer confidence in the safety of food prepared in restaurants is fragile, varying significantly from year to year, with many consumers attributing foodborne illness to foodservice. One of the key drivers of restaurant choice is consumer perception of the hygiene of a restaurant. Restaurant hygiene information is something consumers desire, and when available, may use to make dining decisions.

 Filion, K. and Powell, D.A. 2011. Designing a national restaurant inspection disclosure system for New Zealand. Journal of Food Protection 74(11): 1869-1874

The World Health Organization estimates that up to 30% of individuals in developed countries become ill from contaminated food or water each year, and up to 70% of these illnesses are estimated to be linked to food service facilities. The aim of restaurant inspections is to reduce foodborne outbreaks and enhance consumer confidence in food service. Inspection disclosure systems have been developed as tools for consumers and incentives for food service operators. Disclosure systems are common in developed countries but are inconsistently used, possibly because previous research has not determined the best format for disclosing inspection results. This study was conducted to develop a consistent, compelling, and trusted inspection disclosure system for New Zealand. Existing international and national disclosure systems were evaluated. Two cards, a letter grade (A, B, C, or F) and a gauge (speedometer style), were designed to represent a restaurant’s inspection result and were provided to 371 premises in six districts for 3 months. Operators (n = 269) and consumers (n = 991) were interviewed to determine which card design best communicated inspection results. Less than half of the consumers noticed cards before entering the premises; these data indicated that the letter attracted more initial attention (78%) than the gauge (45%). Fifty-eight percent (38) of the operators with the gauge preferred the letter; and 79% (47) of the operators with letter preferred the letter. Eighty-eight percent (133) of the consumers in gauge districts preferred the letter, and 72% (161) of those in letter districts preferring the letter. Based on these data, the letter method was recommended for a national disclosure system for New Zealand.

Pennsylvania county wary of proposed letter grades for restaurants

While San Jose, Calif., embraces public information, Pittsburgh, Penn., appears stuck in a steel town past as six of the seven Allegheny County Council members who attended a public hearing asked questions that were critical of the proposed A-B-C letter-grade proposal, and none voiced support.

larry.david.rest.inspec“I just think it puts something up that’s causing a lot of angst without a lot of reason,” said Councilman Michael Finnerty, D-Scott, who chairs the Budget & Finance Committee on the 15-member council.

Dr. Lee Harrison, chair of the Board of Health, said the lack of support among the council members doesn’t spell defeat. A similar measure failed in 2011.

“We think from a public health standpoint that this is the right thing to do,” Harrison said.

Donna Scharding, the Health Department’s food safety program manager, said that in 2013, 56 percent of inspections found a high-risk violation, such as improper food handling or temperatures. In Los Angeles County and New York City, instances of foodborne illnesses decreased once grading systems started, Scharding told council members (tough to prove that one – dp).

Pittsburgh restaurant operators express distaste for proposed grading system

Over a dozen local restaurant operators Tuesday evening convened in an Allegheny County Health Department public hearing, where they chewed and spat out an A-B-C grade system based on compliance with food safety procedures.

restaurant_food_crap_garbage_10If passed, Allegheny County residents will see letter grades posted on the doors of all public eating facilities by early September — including restaurants, church kitchens, schools, supermarkets, nursing homes and pool snack bars.

“We’re basically providing an easily interpretable mechanism by which the consumer can interpret our inspections,” said Jim Thompson, deputy director of environmental health.

Grading would be based on compliance with 33 categories of safety provisions that span from tossing expired food and washing used cutlery to providing separate changing facilities and toilets for employees. Any grade below an “A” will require a follow-up inspection of the establishment. Further reinspections may be requested once every calendar year for a fee of $150 at the owner’s expense. Imminent health hazards — such as roof leakage onto food or major cockroach infestations — will warrant the immediate closure of the eatery.

The grading system is a hot potato for Allegheny County restaurant owners, who successfully challenged a similar proposal in March 2011. “It feels a little bit like Groundhog Day,” quipped Kevin Joyce, owner of the Carlton, Downtown.

As in 2011, the central concern of local operators is an alleged misallocation of $3.4 million in federal funds to combat foodborne illnesses. “There are only 17 inspectors for over 9,000 facilities and no measures to ensure consistent grading across the board,” said Mehrdad Emamzadeh, a veteran of the hospitality industry.

Opponents of the program also noted that letter grades would constitute but a “snapshot in time,” unreasonably penalizing human error in a public fashion that would “virtually ruin reputations.” Mr. Emamzadeh, along with two restaurant owners, vowed not to open new establishments in the county if the grade plan were enacted.

‘Not real communicative’ Health dept. in Penn. to test new letter grading system for restaurants

In the on-going saga that is restaurant inspection disclosure for Pittsburgh-area restaurants, things proceed, um, not fast.

The Allegheny County Health Department board has approved plans to move forward requesting public comment on plans to implement a restaurant grading system and a pilot program by summer.

toronto.red.yellow.green.grades.may.11But the board made changes to its original proposal.

Glenda Christy, from the Health Department’s Food Safety Division explained that restaurant owners, at least early on, will get a chance to improve before a lower grade is posted on their establishment.

“There will not be a grade posted on the facility the first time unless it’s an A,” she said. “The inspection, however, will be posted online. And if the facility is not an A, there will be a scheduled re-inspection. At the time of the re-inspection, they will then make the inspection and post the appropriate grade.”

But John Graf, a former president of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, is concerned that plans are moving forward too quickly.

“There is a taste in my mouth that there’s a train moving along here that they don’t want to stop,” he said. “And I think it is moving along a little fast. … It’s just all kind of picked out of a barrel and that’s the concern we have with the grading system as a process, that it’s arbitrary. It’s a snapshot in time, it stays around for a year and it’s not really communicative of the safety of a restaurant throughout the year because it’s just one little slice of time.”

I’ve heard that in every town that has developed some sort of grading program for going on 20 years.

Doesn’t cut it.

No restaurant grades for Pittsburgh diners

What New York, LA, Toronto and hundreds of other cities have figured out is baffling the health folks in Pittsburgh.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports Allegheny County restaurants won’t be posting inspection scores or grades in their windows for the public to view any time soon.

Although County health department director Bruce Dixon and County Manager Jim Flynn were both on the subcommittee to design a restaurant inspection disclosure program, Flynn said he was "disappointed" and was "a little confused" with the plan, while Dixon added, "It needs to be more clear as to what the rules are."

This from two dudes on the committee, which also included six other health department administrators, three other board members and five representatives from the local restaurant industry.

That’s a lot of salaries sitting around a table to come up with … nothing.

Under the proposed system, food inspectors would score restaurants starting at 100 percent and subtracting points for food safety violations they uncover. Scores would be translated into a letter grade of A, B or C. Restaurants scoring below a C would be closed until violations were fixed.

Under the current system, inspectors record violations but do not issue an overall grade or score.

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