PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Pittsburgh is a foodie paradise.
But from the fanciest restaurants to corner diners to those great fish frys at fire halls and churches, all must meet certain standards for quality with the help of Allegheny County food inspectors.
“Their job is to keep the restaurant safe which keeps the public safe,” says Pittsburgh restaurateur Jeff Cohen, owner of the Smallman Street Deli. Cohen says Allegheny County’s health inspectors do a good job, but there’s a potential problem.
The number of health inspectors is down 20 percent.
“We have twenty positions, but they’re not all full. That’s the challenge to do that,” notes Jim Kelly, Allegheny County’s Deputy Health Director.
Kelly says the shortage could risk public health given what inspectors do. “They are very important. That’s why they are part of the Health Department because this is protecting the public from food-borne illness,” notes Kelly.
The general rule is for health inspectors to check out restaurants, including those Lenten fish frys, once every year — but not this year.
A check of the Health Department’s list of inspections on its website finds some places were last checked in 2016.
“We hope by the middle of the summer we will have a full complement and get them up to speed with their training and their certifications,” says Kelly.
Even if the Allegheny County Health Department fills all the vacant positions they have, they still really won’t have enough health inspectors to deal with 8,500 eating establishments in Allegheny County.
That’s what the restaurant owners say.
And, in fact, they also say they’ve got to pay these people more in order to keep the good inspectors.
“I think they’ve always been understaffed, and the reason they’re understaffed is that the job doesn’t pay enough,” notes Cohen.
“And I think it’s an entry level job and for most people, they work it for a year or two or three and then move on.”
Starting salary is just over $31,000, about fifteen bucks an hour.
Despite that, Kelly insists, “Most of the restaurants are in really good shape.”