HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – We get lots of questions after our weekly Restaurant Report. How can restaurants with so many food safety violations stay open? How do inspections work in Pennsylvania?
Lydia Johnson, Director of the Bureau of Food Safety and Laboratories at the state Department of Agriculture, went on the record to answer our questions. Johnson says keeping you safe is her passion.
“That’s the goal: not to have people become ill,” Johnson said. “That’s good for the restaurants and that’s good for the consumer.”
Johnson says trained department inspectors do at least one unannounced inspection for each food facility each year.
“However, if they are out of compliance or they have violations, we will follow up,” she said.
Restaurants get one chance to fix their mistakes. After the first follow-up inspection, they pay $150 for an additional follow-up. Johnson says restaurants will then pay $300 per follow-up until they are in compliance.
If problems continue, the department can take the restaurant to court for citations. The final step involves civil penalties, which can be as high as $10,000 per violation.
The law says closing a restaurant is about quality, not quantity. The Pennsylvania Food Code says an “imminent health hazard” closes a facility.
“This would have a high probability of causing illness,” Johnson said. “An example would be if sewage backs up or if there is a fire or if they don’t have water – any hot water – or an infestation. We will close them.”
Once the hazard is fixed, the restaurant can reopen.
“Some people say you’re doing too much, some people say not enough, but we try to be very fair and our goal is to have the violations corrected because we want to protect the public,” she said.
The department will do additional restaurant inspections in response to complaints.
Online: File a food safety complaint