SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – The Bay Area enjoys an international reputation as a culinary destination for foodies – acclaimed chefs and highly rated restaurants go hand in hand with discerning diners to keep the local industry booming.

Ultimately, it’s food inspectors who allow the industry to keep on moving – or if the circumstances call for it – come screeching to a halt.

KCBS Cover Story: Watching What You Eat – Part 1

That is, if the inspector can complete his or her seemingly never-ending list of tasks. It appears local governments have way too much on their plates when it comes to inspecting all those restaurants and food trucks.

A KCBS analysis found Bay Area health departments average about one inspector for every 250 restaurants and trucks, and it’s a constant struggle to keep up.

KCBS’ Doug Sovern Reports:

“I don’t think there are enough people,” said restaurateur Joe D’Urso, owner of D’Urso Italian Delicatessen on Townsend St. in San Francisco. “There’s not enough oversight, to be honest with you. Because I see violations constantly.”

D’Urso welcomes a visit from an inspector at his eatery.

“The health inspection, which is normally the most fearful I think for other business owners, is the greatest partnership we have,” said D’Urso.  “I look at it as an opportunity to be better at what we do, to be safer at what we do.”

Of course, that isn’t always the case when an inspector shows up at a restaurant unannounced.

“There’s always going to be a little bit of scrambling for those individuals, even when they’re not doing anything wrong,” suggested Mohanned Malhi, senior inspector with the San Francisco Department of Public Health. “Just because the stigma behind, ‘oh it’s the health inspector.'”

He’s looking for the obvious: dirt, grime, bugs and rodents, but also going over the food itself with a fine tooth comb – or, more accurately, a digital thermometer. The hot food needs to be adequately warmed, and the cold food needs to be sufficiently chilled.

Should the temperature test fail – or some other violation be noted – some of the industry’s less scrupulous have been known to resort to bribes: for instance, a meal on the house.

“A free meal isn’t worth my job so I would never,” stressed Malhi. “But it happens, it’s happened, a lot, to everyone I think, to everyone in the office.”

And for the truly challenging restaurants?

“There have been times when we’ve actually been escorted back with the police,” he said.

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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