The San Francisco Department of Public Health is considering a policy change in which health inspectors will post a notice of closure on restaurants shut down for health violations, Jim Illig, president of the Health Commission, wrote in an e-mail Monday.
The health department has produced a two-page response to questions Illig had after reading a series of stories on Mission Loc@l showing that San Francisco’s inspection policy is less transparent than those of most major cities, including Los Angeles, New York, Sacramento and Portland.
Those cities require that a formal notice be posted outside the restaurant when it is closed for health violations. In Los Angeles and Sacramento, the notice also states the reason for the closure.
Except in the most extreme cases, when inspectors here close a restaurant for a rat infestation or other health violation, they post no formal notice, and the restaurants can and often do put up signs stating that they are closed for renovations, according to health officials.
Rajiv Bhatia, M.D., director of occupational and environmental health, will present the department’s findings to a meeting of the Community and Public Health Committee at 2 p.m. The committee will report to the full Health Commission at 4 p.m.
Richard Lee, the city’s chief health inspector, prepared the two-page response that will be presented on Tuesday.
The Mission Loc@l series also revealed that many restaurants in the Mission District and elsewhere in San Francisco have not been inspected for more than a year. The health department cited vacancies as the reason for the delays, adding that the bureaucratic processes required to fill them work slowly.
Illig wrote today that five vacancies remain —17.5 full-time positions are filled and 22.5 have been authorized.
One outstanding question is whether San Francisco’s existing policy is effective. One measure would be the trend in foodborne illnesses. Illig has requested information on this, but it’s unclear if it will be available by Tuesday’s meeting.
Studies on Los Angeles’ inspection policy, which is more transparent and rigorous than San Francisco’s, showed that foodborne illnesses dropped by 20 percent after the policy was put into effect in 1998.
Los Angeles uses a letter-grade system to rate restaurants’ sanitation, and requires them to post the A, B or C grades within five feet of their entrance. San Francisco assigns restaurants scores of 100 and below, but does not require restaurants to post the green scorecard.
Instead, restaurants here are required to post the full reports somewhere in the front, and diners can ask to see them, but Mission Loc@l found that the reports are often hidden and that restaurants sometimes decline to present them.