Philadelphia health officials to publicize restaurant inspections immediately

Philadelphia’s health department is serving up a dish of transparency.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the health department will soon publicize health inspection results 24 to 72 hours after inspections are conducted. For decades, the department followed a policy that kept the inspection reports secret for 30 days.

In the article, Philadelphia Public Health Department Spokesman Jeff Moran said the 30-day waiting period is unnecessary.

“We have determined that the non-disclosure period is not required by the code, nor is it consistent with the Nutter Administration's open-data policy.”

The health department originally intended the withholding period to let restaurant owners address any code violations before the results went live. The timeframe also allowed restaurant owners to privately appeal failing inspection reports. However, the Inquirer found few appeals were made.

The city’s health department inspects 12,000 eateries annually, 5,000 of which are sit-down restaurants.

In the article, a former food safety official said Philadelphia should next consider a restaurant  grading system — either an A-B-C or green, yellow, red card system — that will be open to the public.

Last month, PublicSource reported on the restaurant inspection system in Allegheny County. Its system filters restaurants into a green, yellow and red scale, which essentially serves as a pass or fail for restaurants.

An A-B-C grading system has been considered in Allegheny County, but rejected multiple times. A PublicSource analysis showed that over 10 months of restaurant inspections, about 75 percent would get an A grade. The rest would have been designated as Bs and Cs.

“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 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. The health department actually issued just 11 consumer alerts and closed 11 restaurants.”

Reach PublicSource intern Elaina Zachos at ezachos@publicsource.org.