Nearly half of Berkeley restaurants went without food inspections last year

Berkeley is known as a dining destination, but almost half of all food facilities in the city went without food and safety inspections by the city's Environmental Health Division last year, an auditor's report revealed Wednesday.

The division only completed 29% of its required inspections for restaurants, cafés, grocery stores, catering services and similar food facilities in 2023. Nearly half, 45%, were never inspected at all, the report found.

Berkeley City Auditor Jenny Wong says 193 restaurants did not get a single inspection throughout the year. 

The auditor's report determined chronic understaffing to be the cause of the division's food safety oversights.


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The report says FDA standards recommend seven to eight full-time food inspectors for a city of this size with 933 permitted restaurants and food sites. Wong says Berkeley had only three full-time inspectors.

"City leadership left a supervisor role and food inspector role vacant for over four years," said Wong in an earlier statement. "With existing staff pulled to help with other programs across the Division, it's no surprise the food inspection program fell behind."

Berkeley's food inspection program also failed to meet its targets for responding to reports of foodborne illnesses. The Environmental Health Division's own guidelines instruct employees to investigate these reports within one business day, but inspectors only responded to a quarter of 2023 reports within that time frame.

William Bishop is co-owner of the Oceanview Diner, one of the businesses that did receive an inspection and passed.

"We pay that money to make sure the food operations are healthy. They should allot the money that we pay to them to have the inspectors come and give us the proper inspection to make sure we're safe and up to code," Bishop said.

Berkeley is one of only four California cities that has its own health department -- and by extension, its own food inspection program -- separate from the county.   For the rest of Alameda County, just 3% of food facilities went without a single inspection in 2023, compared to 45% in Berkeley.

Wong said the city also stands out for other reasons. It is the only city in Alameda County that does not require businesses to publicly post food inspection scores.

One of the report's recommendations is to begin this practice in Berkeley once staffing is stable in the department. In management's response to the audit, they agreed to the recommendation but conceded that it could take a few years to implement.

Besides staffing issues, the audit report raised other concerns about the availability of food inspection data online and adequate tracking for spending and revenue.

As a result, the Environmental Health Division could not say whether inspection fees exceeded operating costs.

Management's response to the audit did include estimated spending and revenue figures, but the auditor's office could not verify them because they were not reported during the audit process.

If the numbers are accurate, though, then the city of Berkeley's General Fund covers 40% of inspection costs, which is high compared to Alameda County and other cities with similar independent inspection programs, according to the report.

"The timing of the Division's disclosure of this information is not consistent with the longstanding audit process," the auditor's response stated.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect that nearly half of all Berkeley food facilities have not been inspected, rather than "most," as an earlier version of this story stated.