Jan. 8, 1950: A close look at restaurant sanitation
Allegheny County’s new system for rating the cleanliness of restaurants and posting those grades prominently was front page news this week in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
But it turns out that efforts to rate restaurants in a meaningful, useful way for local diners dates back more than sixty years. Stewart Love of The Pittsburgh Press used his camera to document unsanitary conditions in Pittsburgh restaurants in 1949 and 1950. His disturbing images of dirty kitchens and refrigerators accompanied a story by William Faust.
By 1945, Pittsburgh restaurants had attracted so many complaints from diners that city officials were moved to conduct their own survey of local dining establishments that year. What they found was less than appetizing.
“Scientific analysis indicated that 80 percent of the restaurants, taverns, cafeterias and holes in the walls used inadequate sanitary measures in some phase of storing, preparing and serving food,” Mr. Faust wrote.
In 1949, inspections of Pittsburgh restaurants intensified and 75 proprietors paid fines for using unsterilized eating utensils. That same year, Pittsburgh’s City Council adopted an ABC ordinance and gave restaurants 16 months to meet the new law’s requirements.
Restaurants received an A rating if they used the highest standards of storing, preparing and serving food. Restaurants with a B rating were borderline cases, “lacking in one or more minor respects to merit an A rating,” according to Mr. Faust’s story.
Establishments with a C rating, commonly called “the quick and dirty,” had to clean up within 30 days or close. (By 1950, 110 U.S. cities had enacted laws that adopted a restaurant grading system using the letters A, B and C.)
It’s worth noting that in January of 1950, Pittsburgh had 700 restaurants with an A rating, 1,565 with a B rating and 300 with a C rating. We wonder how local restaurants will stack up in 2014?
In its 1950 story, The Pittsburgh Press story listed eleven criteria for grading a restaurant. For the benefit of our readers and local restaurant owners, we close with that checklist.
Are windows and sidewalks clean?
Is the lighting adequate?
Are washrooms clean with bright lights and solid floors?
Are there unsealed cracks in floor covering or around booths?
Is a sweeping compound used?
Does the wait staff pick up ice with their fingers?
Are cups and dishes cracked?
Do waitresses and bartenders pick up glasses by putting their fingers at the top? (This is a great way to spread germs.)
Does your waitress use a tray or does she serve dishes of food stacked on top of one another?
Is silver picked up by handles only, butter with forks, plates by the edges?
Are glasses washed or merely rinsed?
Even now, those questions are all worth asking.
(Top photo: Cat crawling across a meat grinder was a clear violation)
— Marylynne Pitz