Monday, December 9, 2013
A few months ago, critics in the restaurant industry complained that the city's new health inspector was too picky when she graded their establishments.
The recent temporary closing of the Porthole Restaurant, the Comedy Connection, and Harbour's Edge, all on Custom House Wharf, brought into sharp focus the city's inability to stay on top of inspecting its hundreds of restaurants for health violations.
Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer
Now, after the high profile multiple failures of health codes in three waterfront establishments, other critics are worried that the city is too far behind in its inspections and follow-ups.
Can both criticisms be right? Sure, but neither tells the whole story.
There was a time in Portland's not-so-distant past, when there were as many as nine code enforcement officers who carried out health inspections as part of their duties. Now there is a single person, in the city's Health and Human Services department. Because she could never visit all of Portland's restaurants -- there are nearly 700 -- she is responding to complaints, which may explain why she is finding so many violations.
A city the size of Portland, especially one that has so many restaurants, should have more than one inspector for this important job. Portland will never maintain its reputation as a "foodie" city if it can't assure the public that its commercial kitchens follow the law. If restaurant owners think the inspections are a pain, wait until they can't prove that their businesses comply with safety standards. They will be anxious to get the health department's attention.
The city has made a transition in moving the inspections from the codes office to the health department, and the public should not panic over the anomalies that have occurred as it moved from one system to another.
There should be public concern over the city's inability to inspect all of its eateries. It's too big a job for one person, and it's right to expect the department to be expanded to fill the need.
Health inspections are never going to make everyone happy, but if they keep them healthy Portland can continue to prosper from this economic sector.
The city will never maintain its reputation as a "foodie" city if it can't assure the public that its commercial kitchens follow the law.