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KCBS Cover Story: Watching What You Eat - Part 5

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) - The Bay Area's obsession with food is spreading to all sorts of new locations through pop-up restaurants, food trucks and farmers' markets, making life even more difficult for overwhelmed health inspectors who say they already have too much on their plates.

"In general, I think we do a good job of making sure that we try to prevent food-borne illness," said Richard Lee, San Francisco City and County Director of Environmental Health Regulation. "But it does occur."

KCBS' Doug Sovern Reports:

San Francisco grades food facilities on a scale of 1 to 100, with restaurants averaging in the mid 80s. Lee's staff of 25 has to inspect 7,000 restaurants and trucks once or twice per year. Their already crushing case loads are made all the more challenging because of the surge in food trucks.

"We're going out to the places where they're actually cooking and we're seeing how they're cooking, we have a better idea of looking at and evaluating the food safety," Lee outlined San Francisco County's approach to the burgeoning restaurant-on-wheels business.

Complete Coverage: Watching What You Eat Series

In Alameda County, forty restaurants have been closed since a new system was implemented three months ago, assigning eateries green, yellow or red cards they must display in a window.

"After a routine inspection, a placard is issued that lets the public know at a glance the status of that food facility," explained Ronald Browder, Alameda County Environmental Protection Chief. "Definitely, it gives the public an idea of the status of the facility just by looking in the window."

One theory is that such a public indication of a businesses inspection record will lead to better self policing.

"The combination of the placard and the social media is going to help force restaurants to make sure that they're giving the best service and the best quality product and then following safety guidelines," Mark Everton, General Manager of Miss Pearl's in Oakland, said in support of Alameda County's new food inspection system.

Alameda County inspectors say they can't be there every day to control restaurant policies and guarantee future compliance, so it's up to the businesses themselves to make sure proper safety measures are being taken.

"We don't manage food businesses, we check them," added Don Atkinson-Adams, Alameda County inspector.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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