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SF In the Midst of Restaurant Inspector Shortage

Some restaurants haven't been inspected in two years.

Foreign Cinema has a good health score, but it has not been inspected since March 2014.
Foreign Cinema has a good health score, but it has not been inspected since March 2014.
Foreign Cinema

Turns out restaurants aren’t the only ones having a problem finding employees. The San Francisco Health Department is understaffed, leading some restaurants to not have been inspected in nearly two years. Restaurants are supposed to receive surprise inspections at least once a year, but House of Hunan hasn’t been inspected since June 27, 2014 and Foreign Cinema since March 26, 2014. Both received passing scores, but the time lapse between inspections goes against the once-a-year rule.

SF Health Department spokeswoman Nancy Sarieh ascribed the violations to the rate of growth of restaurants in the city. "In the Bay Area, the food industry has experienced tremendous growth in recent years, from food trucks to brick-and-mortar restaurants," she told the SF Business Times. In an effort to fix the problem, the department hired 10 more inspectors in January, bringing the count to 27. After training and orientation, the new hires will deploy in March.

Because so many new restaurants have been opening, the department has had to prioritize inspecting new businesses, since they can’t open without a final inspection, according to Golden Gate Restaurant Association executive director Gwyneth Borden.

"In order for any building to open, they have to be inspected and get a health permit, particularly food serving. So they have to prioritize inspecting things that need to open over inspecting the backlog. That’s one of the reasons you see all of a sudden a whole bunch of places get in trouble at the same time, because inspectors have territories and all of a sudden someone goes down the block that hasn't' been visited in two years. There’s also been an issue when you're opening a business trying to get a final inspection. It's been slower than normal because of the backlog and shortage."

Besides the obvious potential health implications for the general public, the staffing shortage has also been adversely affecting restaurants. While the many new hires will increase inspection frequency, the new inspectors are often "less sensitive to the business needs of restaurants," Borden said. "We’ve had a number of restaurants saying inspectors come in the middle of the lunch shift and having to shut down the line, meaning they can’t get food out and having to comp meals to patrons."

To be determined how the new hires affect the scene, but in the meantime, you can always check restaurants scores here — for what they're worth.