These Center City establishments, cited in city Health Department reports, are just three of the places where a largely unnoticed battle is waged daily to protect consumers from food prepared with dirty utensils, kept in unsanitary surroundings or at unsafe temperatures.
The battle is fought in the kitchens of some of the fanciest establishments and some of the simplest: from Bookbinder's Seafood House on 15th Street, fined $500 last year in Municipal Court for violations ranging from flies to unclean food equipment and broken toilet fixtures, to the pretzel stand in City Hall, fined $800 last month for an infestation of mice and a lack of water.
A Daily News investigation reveals that at a time when Philadelphia is still riding the crest of a restaurant renaissance that began with the Bicentennial, the city is finding it increasingly difficult to perform regular inspections and force restaurant owners with unsanitary conditions to correct them promptly.
Nearly two out of every three slots for Health Department inspectors has been left unfilled over the past 10 years - a period when more people are eating out more often - despite repeated warnings from department officials that the inspection system is becoming less effective.
City officials fear they won't be able to inspect each food establishment even once this year - let alone twice, as was the case only a few years ago and is the interval recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
They say funds are simply not available for the 20 inspector slots left vacant by retirements or personnel shifts over the past several years. This leaves only 12 inspectors to monitor Philadelphia's 6,000 restaurants, 3,400 markets and 3,000 other facilities, which range from institutional cafeterias to swimming pools.
Each inspector's workload is three times what the FDA considers acceptable for a thorough program.
A similar problem exists at the state level: Pennsylvania officials admit the 28 state inspectors never see many of the 17,000 restaurants under their jurisdiction.
Adding to the problem is the fact that there is virtually no way to determine how Philadelphia's food protection program compares to those in other counties and municipalities in Pennsylvania because the state doesn't try to evaluate local efforts. Nor do the city or state make public the results of their inspections or actions taken against restaurants that fail to correct violations.
Philadelphia's 12 inspectors focus on establishments with the most serious violations and on repeat offenders, affording them fewer opportunities to make regular inspections of other establishments.
The process of taking repeated offenders to court usually results in violations being corrected - a major goal of the Health Department - but which can, and usually does, take months.
A Daily News examination of the 432 cases taken to Municipal Court since January 1985 shows that continuances are common and the small fines usually imposed by judges reluctant to shut down establishments impede quick compliance. Some owners also take advantage of the slowness of the system to
put off mandated corrections as long as possible.
These defendants - restaurateurs, food vendors and grocers - represent only a fraction of the food establishments operating in Philadelphia.
But city officials and some restaurateurs say regular inspections prod businesses into compliance before there's a need for court action.
"It's something that requires constant vigilance," says Art Banks, director of the FDA's national retail food protection program.
"It's not practical to let Philadelphia restaurants police themselves," admits Philadelphia-Delaware Valley Restaurant Association president Samuel Mink, owner of the Sansom Street Oyster House. "There are all kinds of operations that operate under different standards."
City officials say the soaring increase this year in court actions reflects the inspectors' thinning ranks.
Since January, 199 food establishments - vendors, restaurants, stores and institutions that prepare and serve food - have been taken to court. The total last year was 233; the high this decade was 309 in 1982.
"When there aren't regular inspections, more restaurants let things slide," said Stephen Foelster, assistant city food inspection chief.
Some businessmen who have been taken to court disagree.
Hobo Pancake Kitchen owner Bob Yellin said inspectors sometimes don't give businesses enough time to comply. "Sometimes things break and are expensive to fix," he said.
Reading Terminal manager William T. Gardiner II said his firm has spent over $500,000 in the past five years trying to correct a number of problems, including rat infestations. "We do have structural problems, but our food is sound, wholesome and clean," he said.
H.A. Winston's management referred questions to attorney Ronald N. Rutenberg, who did not return phone calls. Bookbinder's Seafood House owners declined to comment, while the owner of the City Hall pretzel stand could not be reached.
City food inspection chief Randall Hirschhorn said it is taking longer to identify unclean operations because the city is concentrating on businesses already cited for violations.
"In recent years we've tried to inspect as many establishments as possible. But that didn't make any sense because we were letting a lot of bad cases go. Now we're doing fewer inspections to go after the bad ones," Hirschhorn said.
That new approach, he said, explains why his department did not act against the New Eastern Food Co. warehouse at 1901 Westmoreland St. last year when initial inspections suggested problems.
Before the city could investigate further, the FDA began its own probe. The FDA, which does not inspect restaurants or markets, shares jurisdiction with the city over food warehouses.
Court papers filed last January show federal inspectors found filthy conditions throughout the three-story structure.
The management considered cats that slept on open bags of food to be its ''rodent control program"; swollen cans with decomposing food were stacked and awaiting shipment to unspecified restaurants; rodent and insect skins lay atop fresh vegetables and inside open bags of grain.
"We understood there were problems there," Hirschhorn said, "but we couldn't devote the manpower to them just then. We were too involved with other cases. The FDA was able to send four agents for 10 days to make their investigation. I just don't have the manpower."
The city Health Department - like other food inspection agencies - doesn't go after errant eateries in the way police pursue criminals.
Unless it poses "a clear and present danger to the public health," a restaurant or any other food establishment cited for unsanitary conditions can - and usually does - stay open for months, city records show.
Sometimes compliance involves a costly and lengthy process.
An Oct. 11, 1985, memo from Hirschhorn to the Reading Terminal management states:
"The biggest problem confronting the Reading Company are the rats, mice and flying insects infesting the basement and market levels as well as the large amount of stagnant water and sewage accumulated in pools on the basement floor."
The memo, obtained by the Daily News, said inspectors found "one pool observed to be roughly 2,000 square feet and literally teeming with insect larva," and set a January 1986 deadline for full compliance.
The terminal management was scheduled to appear in Municipal Court on June 13 to answer complaints that it had not yet complied.
But Hirschhorn told Judge Barbara A. Gilbert that management has been making "substantial progress" and had the case deferred to July 30.
"We inherited many of the problems that should have been addressed before we took over the market five years ago," terminal market manager Gardiner said. "We have structural problems we are trying to eliminate in an orderly fashion without disrupting the economy of the market."
A Daily News review of the 432 Municipal Court cases brought against restaurants and other food establishments since January 1985 shows that:
* Judges generally impose fines well below those requested by the city unless a restaurateur, vendor or grocer incurs the wrath of the court by failing to appear for a hearing.
An analysis of 232 restaurant cases filed in Municipal Court since January 1985 shows 55 got fines ranging between $25 and $140; 37 had fines between $150 and $490; 25 had fines between $500 and $950; and 17 had fines of $1,000 or more. The fines generally were half what inspectors recommended; sometimes they were well below what was recommended.
* Neither fines nor license revocations pose much threat to the continued operation of establishments that are out of compliance.
Dozens of cited operations, particularly street vendors, continued to sell food even though they lost their licenses months earlier or had not corrected defects that drew fines in previous court cases.
* The department itself doesn't look at fines as punitive.
After failing to comply with the health code for months, 48 of 232 cited restaurateurs paid no fine because a final "pre-hearing inspection" showed they finally had complied.
"We don't want to run anyone out of business," Hirschhorn said. "We want them to comply with the code."
Although he declined to comment on Philadelphia's food inspection program, Richard J. Davis, head of FDA's regional office here, said fines "should be commensurate with the business an establishment is doing.
"If they get a fine no greater than they'd get for running a stop sign, that's not good."
Food industry surveys consistently show the leading concern of consumers is sanitation, says the FDA's Banks, who heads a program to help states and local governments establish effective retail food inspection programs.
"You're talking about an industry that has a very high turnover. Besides that, there are new problems with the heavy use of preservatives and substitute foods. People are craving new eating experiences and going after high-risk foods like raw fish and wild mushrooms.
"We've had more serious outbreaks of (new) organisms in the last two years than we've had in the past 10."
But sometimes common foods create problems - as chicken salad from a now- defunct Center City restaurant did three months ago.
On a Friday afternoon in April, two people who did not know each other entered Graduate Hospital's emergency room with similar symptoms.
"They were in awful shape. They had severe diarrhea and violent vomiting. They were retching and had severe abdominal cramps," recalled Dr. Eric Neilson. "With the first one, I suspected a virus. When the second one came in, I suspected it was something worse."
Neilson called Hirschhorn and in the few minutes it took the Health Department inspection chief to arrive, two more people with the same symptoms entered the hospital.
Hirschhorn interviewed the patients and phoned other local hospitals; he found five others with the same symptoms had sought emergency care.
He learned the only thing the patients had in common was the chicken salad they all had for lunch at a Center City establishment specializing in ''gourmet take-out lunches." He declined to identify the eatery, saying only that it is out of business.
"There was nothing in our last inspection (of the restaurant) that would suggest this was possible," Hirschhorn said.
Reported incidents of food poisoning are "the tip of an iceberg" as far food protection specialists and the national Center for Disease Control are concerned, said Dr. Edward C. Heffron, Wisconsin's food protection director and president of the Association of Food and Drug Officials.
"Many people never think they're sick because of something they ate. Unless you get large numbers of people coming in for treatment, hospitals and physicians generally don't think of food poisoning as the culprit," he said.
The most up-to-date state Health Department statistics show 1,109 people were sickened in 20 outbreaks of so-called "food-borne illness" in 1984 - the largest number of people reporting such ailments since 1981. The totals included nine restaurants and 897 patrons.
Virtually no major consumer group in the nation or Pennsylvania - even those that rail about the ingredients in fast food - have examined the quality of restaurant inspection programs.
Spokesmen for the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the American Public Health Association said restaurant inspection is a local matter and they are interested in issues that can be addressed by federal legislation.
"It's absolutely neglected," Heffron said. "Sanitation often is a stepchild. There's all this attention to chemical contaminants, but when we speak of human injury caused by contaminated food, there's no comparison."
Although professional concern for sanitary conditions hasn't changed, the funding decisions of politicians who approve the city Health Department's budget have.
City records show that as early as 1979, department officials warned that budget reductions were impairing their inspection force.
"We've put in for filling (the vacated inspector slots) , but we don't get them. We just do what we can with what we have," said Robert Davis, former city food inspection chief and now the head of the city's Department of Environmental Health Services, which includes food protection.
"I know they're strapped for resources and so are we," said FDA regional director Richard J. Davis, who is not related to Robert Davis. "Philadelphia is down to crisis management."
The city's 12 inspectors are responsible for 9,886 vendors, restaurants and cafeterias, more than 3,400 supermarkets and corner grocery stores, more than 1,800 hair and beauty salons, and around 350 private water wells, swimming pools and septic systems.
That means each inspector has over 1,000 separate locations to inspect.
"There's no way a sanitarian can do a really careful and complete job with more than about 300 or 400 establishments," Banks says.
Hirschhorn said the city conducted 23,000 inspections in the 1985 fiscal year.
But those statistics are misleading since some restaurants are visited as many as 10 times when the department is trying to force compliance.
The workload for state inspectors is somewhat lighter, but the Department of Environmental Resources doesn't see all the restaurants under its jurisdiction, officials said.
DER has jurisdiction over the 17,000 restaurants that are not under one of Pennsylvania's 241 county or municipal food inspection agencies.
With about 17,000 other kinds of facilities to inspect - water supplies, beaches, swimming pools, farm labor camps, schools - DER only can devote the services of 28 sanitarians annually to eateries.
"It's physically impossible to inspect every place according to law," said DER food protection director Duain B. Shaw. "There are many places we never see."
DER copes by focusing on establishments in heavily traveled areas, such as the Pennsylvania Turnpike or tourist spots.
State budget-cutters also have tried to eliminate DER's inspection of the approximate two dozen shellfish processing firms in Pennsylvania. Elimination of the program has been postponed at least until October because the FDA has urged state officials to reconsider the move, federal officials said.
Although Hirschhorn said "our food protection program is working well," there is no way anyone can compare food inspection programs.
Although the FDA recommends that states evaluate local restaurant inspection programs and conduct certification programs for inspectors, Pennsylvania does neither.
DER has not evaluated local inspection programs in at least five years, Shaw said, because "we just don't have the resources."
But the FDA itself has never come up with a way states can judge their local inspection programs.
"That's the shortcoming we have," Banks said. "We don't have clearly delineated standards to use in assessing local programs."
FDA does evaluate state programs.
But it has not evaluated Pennsylvania's program for 11 years. Noting that states must invite such evaluations, FDA chief Davis said his agency is
discussing an evaluation with DER officials.
FDA evaluations of New York and New Jersey food protection programs in the past five years have pointed out problems linked to an insufficient number of inspectors, according to documents obtained by the Daily News through the federal Freedom of Information Act.
The FDA was particularly critical of New York's program.
Although it said New York had "one of the most progressive we have in the country," the FDA found "only a marginal level of food protection."
New York in 1982 recorded the nation's highest number of food poisoning incidents - 323 outbreaks involving an inestimable number of people. Half the outbreaks were in New York City.
Those statistics are the most current available from the national Center for Disease Control.
Pennsylvania's 27 outbreaks in 1982 ranked fourth-highest.
The state Health Department reported that its most current statistics show that in 1984, there were 20 food poisoning outbreaks that affected 1,109 people. Of those totals, nine cases involved food from restaurants and affected 987 people.
Some experts suggest that governments are shortchanging food inspection programs because they have worked so well in the past and people tend to take them for granted.
"When society doesn't pay a lot of attention to such systems of protection, politicians won't appropriate the necessary funds," said Dr. William H. McBeath, director of the American Public Health Association.
"As long as unsanitary conditions aren't high on the list of causes of death, people don't give much notice," McBeath said. "But they would be high on the list if you ignored these systems for a few years."