Monday, May 22, 2006

The last word on Starr-gate, or how we learned to stop worrying and love health violations

Last week, you’ll remember, there was a little commotion around town after Philly Mag posted a report from the City’s Office of Food Protection. We pointed out that in that report, a bunch of Stephen Starr restaurants received multiple violations. Fingers were pointed, names were called and, shortly thereafter, the initial report was pulled from the magazine’s website.

After we posted a follow-up, Philebrity did some digging. They got Jeff Moran, Office of Food Protection spokesperson, to blame the foul-up on an IT problem.

This sounded like a crock at first. (An “IT problem” resulting in eight Starr restaurants getting their grime on?) But as it turns out, Moran was apparently telling the truth. Inasmuch as the “IT problem” was that someone screwed up exporting the report from excel into a PDF, so that violations were lined up with the wrong restaurants.

Philadelphia Magazine published a corrected version on Friday. Philebrity then reported that Starr joints did much better this time around. Which is comforting. Now we can sleep again at night.

Then Sunday morning, we saw a piece in the Inky with the following report:
Early this month, Philadelphia Magazine posted a list of violations, but the list was inaccurate - branding some of Philadelphia's best-known restaurants as having had problems with rats, mice and flies.

An information-technology glitch was to blame, but it is not clear how it happened.
Platt said researcher Victor Fiorillo had gone back and forth with the city to get a "digestible version of the raw data." The city converted the file to an Excel spreadsheet, from which a document known as a PDF file was printed.

But on the document, the names, addresses, violations and dates of violations had been incorrectly lined up.

Eight days after the list went up, Platt said the owner of a Northeast Philadelphia barbecue restaurant called the magazine to say that his restaurant had not been cited.

Platt said the magazine called the department to double-check and pulled the report from its site "within minutes."
Hoo-ray Platt.

In the end, all the ruckus did inspire the City’s Office of Food Protection to post the reports online themselves. Crazy. That was how this thing all got started. Philadelphia Magazine wrote a short piece saying how ridiculously difficult it was for anyone to get their hands on restaurant inspections in this town, when in other cities (like New York) it was insanely easy, “Dirty Secrets: How to Get Your Mitts on the City’s Restaurant Reports.” (May, 2006)

And they got just what they asked for. Now there’s a 425-page PDF report on phila.gov about Center City restaurants with health violations in 2004 and 2005. Can’t wait to check that out. Oh good, the Inky already did that for us…
Other owners also said they had solved their problems.

At Alma de Cuba on Walnut Street, a fly infestation in March was eliminated within 24 hours, owner Stephen Starr said through a spokeswoman.

At Matyson, owner Matt Spector said mouse problems had been fixed, and the most recent inspection found no infestation. When he first opened in late 2003, there were mice because previous tenants had left food that had rotted, he said.
Good work Inky. Someone might just buy you yet.

Related:
Morimotogate R.I.P. [Philebrity]
Sometimes it can take five of us to write a single article [Inky]
We don’t need no stinking excel tutor [phila.gov]
Platt: This definitely should get us a Pulitzer [PhillyMag]
Earlier:
Star-gate; wtf?

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