Chatter: Dirty Secrets
Download the city's Office of Food Protection report.
If you run a dirty restaurant in Raleigh, North Carolina, everyone knows it: A prominent notice is affixed to the door, and the information is reported in the local paper. Run such an establishment in Philadelphia, though, and whether you have rats, roaches, or food improperly imported from Liberia (this actually happened), your customers remain blissfully unaware.
When we called the local health department to find out why—and to request the data—we were offered a phone number that turned out to be a mire of unhelpful menus. So we headed to the department’s restaurant safety division in West Philadelphia, where reports gather dust in gray file cabinets. But no one there seemed to know exactly how to handle our requests, and we left empty-handed—twice.
This sort of caginess isn’t exclusive to the health department. From the police department to City Council, our municipal government’s view of what qualifies as “public” is practically Cheney-esque. (See silent_treatment.gov for more examples.) Still, we can’t help but think our favorite seafood takeout spot would be more likely to keep fecal matter out of the scampi if its dirty little secrets weren’t secrets at all.
A spokesperson told us the health department hopes to get this information on the Internet “one day.” But for now, the only way to gain access is to raise hell. After our repeated complaints, the official was kind enough to provide a copy of the database. So we put it up on the web, at phillymag.com.
EDITOR'S NOTE: After this story ran, the Department of Public Health posted reports for 2004 and 2005 on the city's official site. You can view them here.