SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – Bay Area foodies love to eat out, but how safe is it – especially with health inspectors all over the region struggling to keep up with the proliferation of new restaurants and food trucks?

The San Francisco Department of Public Health, for instance, has just 25 people keeping tabs on more than 7,000 places that serve food. In Santa Clara County, 54 people are tasked with inspecting 13,000 food facilities.

“It is always a challenge to keep up,” acknowledged Heather Forshey, director of Santa Clara County’s Consumer Protection Division.

“We have about 24 districts right now,” said Ronald Browder, chief of Alameda County’s Environmental Protection Division, which is responsible for inspecting 6,000 places for critical violations. “We need to have 30.”

KCBS’ Doug Sovern Reports: 

Among the complaints? “Anything from no water, no hot water, rat infestation, insect infestation,” said Browder.

“We’re all generally looking at the same thing,” added Forshey. “Is your water heater working? Do you have water? Do you have hand washing? Is your food hot, is your food cold? We’re all looking at the same things.”

KCBS Cover Story: Watching What You Eat – Part 2

Nine San Francisco eateries, including the popular Vietnamese restaurant Tu Lan and Cafe for All Seasons on West Portal, have been shut down in the last two years after it was determined they weren’t clean and safe enough.

“We don’t want to close places,” insisted Richard Lee, director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health Food Safety Program. “We understand it affects the employees. We don’t want to close places but sometimes we have no choice.”

The overwhelming majority of Bay Area restaurants, it should be noted, pass – with flying colors.

“They come in unannounced, quite often we get a different inspector so we’re not seeing the same face over and over again,” Mark Everton, general manager at Miss Pearl’s in Oakland and Oakland Restaurant Association co-founder, described the process.

Should diners take comfort in the statistics – so many eateries, so few shut down? Or, is this seemingly simple equation leaving the customer at risk? After all, the experts are saying it best: so many restaurants, so few inspectors.

“We need more than what we have,” stressed Browder.

Listen for Doug’s Cover Story reports, “Watching What You Eat,” Monday through Friday, Oct. 22 – 26, at 6:20 a.m., 8:30 a.m., 12:20 p.m., 4:20 p.m. and 9:20 p.m. on All News 740 and FM 106.9 KCBS.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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