A draft proposal for grading restaurants based on their annual inspections is ready, but the plan won't move forward until the Allegheny County Health Department has a permanent director in place, Board of Health chairman Lee Harrison said Wednesday.
The grading plan "is something we've put a lot of effort into," Dr. Harrison said at the board's bimonthly meeting. But he said action is on hold pending the input of a new director.
The county has been searching for a director since the late Bruce Dixon was fired last June. An announcement on a replacement is expected by the end of this month.
Dr. Harrison -- who heads the restaurant grading panel composed of representatives of the health department, board of health and restaurant industry -- has said plans call for testing any grading system in the field before presenting it to board members for their approval. The plan would then go to Allegheny County Council for consideration.
County Executive Rich Fitzgerald has asked the board to make development of a restaurant grading system a priority.
Under the county's current inspection program, health inspectors record food safety violations but do not give restaurants grades or scores.
Supporters of restaurant grades say the specter of having to post a poor grade on the door is an effective way to spur restaurants to act quickly to fix serious health code violations.
Some two years ago, the board unanimously approved an A-B-C grading system but scuttled it following an outcry from prominent local restaurant owners who called the plan unnecessary and potentially damaging to their businesses.
That plan also was criticized by a food safety expert at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, but for a different reason. She said it was too lenient on restaurants, making it virtually useless as a guide for consumers when choosing a place to eat.
Patricia Sabatini: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3066.