Air travel includes plenty of petty annoyances, but the risks associated with flying are quite small. At Pittsburgh International Airport, the most unsafe place for air travelers may well be its restaurants.
Post-Gazette reporter Patricia Sabatini reviewed two years' worth of inspection reports for 19 restaurants at the airport and found they drew 270 critical violations, serious infractions that pose risks for foodborne illnesses. They also received another 230 less-serious violations.
To put that volume in context, inspection reports for the similar-sized Mineta San Jose International Airport showed 146 infractions at about the same number of facilities over the same period, with just two major violations.
It is unsettling for travelers that such things as undercooked meats, foods stored at unsafe temperatures and improper food handling by employees happen far too often at the airport's restaurants.
Lest anyone suggest that inspectors always find problems and that a clean record is unattainable, the record of three full-service T.G.I. Friday locations at the airport stand as proof that it is possible to meet Allegheny County's health safety standards. Not one critical violation was recorded in the two-year period at the three Fridays and only two noncritical infractions were noted.
Yet statements from both the Allegheny County Airport Authority and Airmall USA, which manages the retail space at the airport, expressed faith and pride in the food-service operations.
One of the worst things about the restaurant safety violations at the airport may be that customers probably didn't know about them. That's because only consumers who log on to the county health department's website would see the reports. After years of debate and development, posting grades from the department at restaurant entrances remains an unrealized goal.
There have been too many setbacks, largely at the behest of the local restaurant industry, and the department's latest proposal for restaurant grading was put on hold pending the appointment of a permanent director. With the announcement that Karen Hacker of the Cambridge Health Alliance in Massachusetts will take over in September, there is no longer any reason to delay the start of field testing of a grading plan.
Turbulence may sicken some airline passengers, but food at the airport shouldn't.