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Phila. restaurants get same-day health inspections

Philadelphia now releases restaurant health reports the day of the inspection.

Philadelphia this week joined the major U.S. cities that publicly release same-day restaurant inspection reports rather than waiting a month, a policy critics said kept diners in the dark about potential health risks.

For the last three decades, diners in Philadelphia have unknowingly patronized restaurants cited for serious hygiene problems including mouse droppings, improperly refrigerated food, and managers oblivious of the basic tenets of food safety.

Health Department officials said the city's 30-day policy was meant to give eatery owners time to challenge inspection results. Yet it was a practice that surprised health officials in other big cities.

The same-day release follows an Inquirer/ report that found Philadelphia was the only major city in the United States to withhold results for a significant length of time. The results are available from the city or on the Clean Plates website:

This week, Health Department sanitarians dropped in on dozens of city restaurants. Among the most sharply criticized were a Drexel University dining hall, two South Philly watering holes, and an upscale burger joint in Center City.

The Handschumacher Dining Hall at Drexel, managed by Sodexo, was cited Tuesday for nine foodborne illness violations and eight lesser failings. Sanitarians found that baked turkey was not cooled properly, sushi and stuffing were being held at bacteria-friendly temperatures, and a blast cooler was not working. A spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Cookies Bar was issued a cease and desist order - temporarily shutting it down - Monday for widespread mouse feces, no hot water, and not having an employee certified in food safety. A telephone listed at the bar, across from the O'Malley New Year's Brigade clubhouse on South Third Street, was out of order and the owner could not reached for comment.

Cookies Tavern, no relation to Cookies Bar, was cited Tuesday for six foodborne illness violations, including mice feces and storing chemicals on the same shelf as beverages. A manager at the bar, located at Alder Street and Oregon Avenue, could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

The hamburger restaurant 500 Degrees, at 15th and Sansom Streets, was cited for eight foodborne illness violations Monday. It received notice of nine in April. Among the risk factors discovered this week were blocked handwashing sinks, unsanitized food contact surfaces, and improperly refrigerated meats and cheeses.

Owner Rob Wasserman said that 500 Degrees was operating under some "unique circumstances" but declined to elaborate. Asked what he thought about inspection results being posted the same day, he was upbeat.

"That's fantastic for the dining public," Wasserman said. "They're making everybody aware as it's happening. That's great."