Jennifer Thomas of the Centre Daily Times reports that Kevin Kassab has visited every restaurant in State College and neighboring Patton and Ferguson Townships.
And, yes, there are hundreds.
But Kassab is not visiting the restaurants to check out the menus. A health technician for State College, he’s there to safeguard against food-borne illnesses by examining each restaurant’s inner workings, such as food temperatures and personal hygiene.
“Our ultimate goal is to protect public health, but we also have to work with the establishments,” he said.
A recent announced visit to the Waffle Shop at 364 E. College Ave. to allow the Centre Daily Times to view how the inspection process works found everything in tip-top shape.
An unannounced visit two weeks earlier found almost the same situation, as the shop recorded a score of 95 out of a possible 100 points.
“You have to be realistic. No place is going to be spic and span,” Kassab said.
That type of score reflects only minor infractions, Kassab said, such as an employee whose hair wasn’t pulled back, or carpeting that is worn and needs to be replaced.
The Waffle Shop owner Greg Kight said the routine inspections are welcome. He has owned the College Avenue location and The Waffle Shop in Bellefonte for the past 41/2 years.
“They’re the experts in the field,” he said. “We’re going to make mistakes. We’re going to forget things… They make things better.”
Anyone interested in viewing the inspection results may do so by appointment at the borough’s Public Health Office. One day soon, Health Inspector Mark Henry would like to see those results available online.
That is already possible for state-inspected restaurants, as the state Department of Agriculture in January launched the $600,000 Garrison Enterprises Digital Health Department System.
There are 117 restaurants in Centre County that are inspected by the state. As of Friday, results of 141 inspections — including those of schools and drinking establishments — were posted on the site. Users can search for restaurants by county, zip code or name of a specific restaurant.
The Web site provides few details of the inspection, but places restaurants in one of two categories: “in compliance,” or “out of compliance.”
A restaurant that is “out of compliance” is one in which inspectors found something that they consider poses a major risk of food-borne illness or injury.
To view the information, go to www.agriculture.state.pa.us and click on the yellow toolbar midpage that’s labeled Pennsylvania Food Safety.
Bobby McLean, Digital Health Department Program manager, said information on restaurants will be added as they are inspected. By next year, he expects the site to contain information on the approximately 22,000 restaurants the state inspects.
The site, however, does not include reports on inspections conducted by almost 200 county and regional inspectors throughout the state, such as those from State College’s Public Health Office.
“That’s a lot of food establishments that are not ever going to fall under the state system,” McLean said.
He would eventually like to see all restaurant inspections become part of the state’s Web site.
“Up until that point I don’t think that it will be a fair representation of the health departments in Pennsylvania,” he said. “We would like to see a populated database of all restaurants.”
As the system is developed, more details from the inspections may be added, McLean said.
“Either way, as long as there’s uniformity (in inspections), it will be fine,” he said.
State College inspectors try to provide that uniformity by using state Department of Agriculture regulations — specifically Pennsylvania code, title 7, chapter 46 — in their inspections, Henry said.
Changes to those regulations in 2004 meant that the Henry’s department spent the better portion of 2004 and 2005 adapting and helping restaurants adjust to the changes, such as the meeting the Food Employees Certification Law, which requires all food esta blishments that handle potentially hazardous food to have at least one manager certified in safe food handling
“Most places will comply if you let them know what to do,” Henry said. “It’s not that people are trying to break the regulations.”
The department’s mission is to prevent food-borne illness through personal hygiene, food temperatures and cross-contamination, he said. That means such things as monitoring the holding temperature on a buffet table and keeping tracking which utensils are used for various foods.
The borough visits each restaurant once or maybe twice a year, with more frequent visits if violations are found, Henry said.
“Don’t be afraid to go out and eat. We go out to eat. The restaurants are doing a pretty good job,” he said, However, he said, consumers should be wise about the establishments they frequent and report potential violations.
The managers of restaurants are the “key to protecting the public health,” Henry said.
For those managers, that means knowing the rules for everything, including how frequently to change the water in the dishwasher and how hot the water must be and how to store food on racks off the ground, The Waffle Shop’s Kight said. Refrigerators have t o be a certain temperature, as do freezers. Ice has to be covered, as do light fixtures in case of a broken bulb.
“It has to be right every time,” Kight said. “You have to be paying attention and on top of it every single time.”
“Public perception and how people think of your place is critical,” he said.