Allegheny County Advances Restaurant Grading System, Community Health Assessments

Sep 3, 2014

New York City already has a similar food safety grading system in place.
Credit Flickr user Mike Licht

The Allegheny County Health Department wants you to help set its priorities as it attempts to become the healthiest county in the nation.

That’s according to department director Dr. Karen Hacker, who said the county is now moving into the second phase of its community health assessment process. The first phase was an online comment period, which Hacker said garnered more than 1,000 responses.

“We’re actually going to host 13 district-level meetings for community members to express their thoughts on what the health issues are, and also to present some information about the most pressing needs and the strengths of the county,” Hacker said.

Meetings will be held throughout the county between Sept. 29 and Nov. 12. Hacker said community engagement is the key to a foundation of good public health.

“The overall goal, more than anything, is to engage the community, which is a process I don’t really think the health department has done historically,” Hacker said. “The second thing is to really help us identify what those top level priorities ought to be in moving forward.”

In other health department news, the county Board of Health Wednesday voted to approve a new restaurant grading system meant to make health department assessments more accessible for the general public.

The new system would give restaurants grades ranging from A to C, and those grades would be posted either on the restaurant’s door or at the point of sale.

“It allows for the consumer to immediately make a decision, rather than going to the (health department) website,” said food safety director Donna Scharding. “But the website is an opportunity to learn more about what was identified inside the doors.”

Scharding said, given all the work that still needs to be done, the earliest feasible date for implementation of the grading system is Jan. 19.

“We still have to update policies that are affected by the grading system,” Scharding said. “We have to develop the placard itself and have the placard printed. We also want to make sure we have an educational package put together for both the public and the operators.”