Health Dept. Cracks Down On Restaurants, Sees 5-Fold Increase In Consumer Alerts

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Hundreds of new, hip and trendy restaurants keep opening in Allegheny County, and it’s made Pittsburgh a destination spot for foodies.

“In Pittsburgh, essentially, it’s blown up for the last two, three years now. It’s the talk about our area, nationwide,” says Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association President Peter Landis.

He says there’s little doubt restaurants in Allegheny County are safe.

“I haven’t heard of a case of someone getting sick in a restaurant in a long, long time,” says Landis.

That’s why some restaurant owners KDKA’s Paul Martino spoke with take issue with a recent crackdown on restaurants by the Allegheny County Health Department.

However, the Health Department makes no apologies for it.

“We have a new director, an entirely new management team, new management structure. So, the way we do business is a bit different now,” says Jim Kelly with the Allegheny County Health Department.

KDKA’s investigation found there’s been a five-fold increase in consumer alerts from the Health Department since 2010.

An alert means there’s a risk to consumers.

It covers everything from foods not being hot enough or cold enough, to restaurants that have problems with rodents or bugs.

If the violations are serious enough, a restaurant will be forced to close.

Health Department records show the most dramatic jump in consumer alerts since 2013, when current Health Department Director Karen Hacker was hired.

In 2010, there were nine consumer alerts issued.

In 2014, that number jumped to 13 consumer alerts.

And in 2016, the Health Department issued 47 consumer alerts.

The same is true for restaurant closures.

In 2010 there were seven closures by the Health Department.

By 2014, that number grew to 19.

And in 2016, 35 restaurants were forced to close.

Kelly says the Health Department is just trying to weed out repeat offenders, saying, “We have those repeat offenders that were tying up a lot of our time before and we weren’t able to get to the rest of the 8,300 restaurants that we need to inspect to protect public health.”

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However, Landis believes there are other motivations, saying “My gut feeling is that there is a correlation between regime change and them getting shot down with the grading system that they worked so hard for.”

Landis is referring to a system of grading restaurants – A, B, C or D – based on their inspection.

The letter would have been posted on the front of a restaurant.

The Health Department fought hard to get that system, but restaurant owners successfully opposed it and the current Pass/Fail system remains in place.

The Health Department says they’re just trying to eliminate problem restaurants and keep the public safe with Kelly saying, “We kept having to spend our time to re-inspect, tell them what’s wrong, re-inspect. Now you get a penalty – take care of it.”

And restaurant owners agree if a restaurant isn’t safe, it should be fixed.

You can always check the Allegheny County Health Department’s website — http://www.achd.net/mainstart.html — to see the current restaurant inspection report, including any consumer alerts and closures.

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