HARRISBURG, PA — The Department of Agriculture has released data related to COVID-19 restaurant enforcement actions from December 28, 2020, through January 3, 2021. The information is specific to COVID-19 mitigation requirements for restaurants, including masking of employees offering carry-out, delivery and curbside pick-up services, and reflect the temporary order prohibiting dine-in service from December 12, 2020 until 8:00 AM January 4, 2021.
These numbers include actions taken during routine food safety inspections and inspections prompted by consumer complaints.
From December 28, 2020 through January 3, 2021, the department’s Bureau of Food Safety performed 373 inspections, 99 of which were complaint-driven. Of those, 96 were COVID-19 specific complaints. The department received 244 food facility COVID-19 related complaints, and 101 of those complaints were referred to local and county health jurisdictions.
Inspectors closed 36 restaurants by order after each was confirmed to be open for dine-in service and refused to comply with the temporary order while an inspector was present.
The limited-time mitigation order, which expired at 8:00 AM January 4, 2021, prohibited indoor dining at businesses in the retail food services industry, including, but not limited to, bars, restaurants, breweries, wineries, distilleries, social clubs, and private catered events. Outdoor dining, take-out food service, and take-out alcohol sales were permitted, subject to any limitations or restrictions imposed by Pennsylvania law, or this or any other order issued by the Secretary of Health or Governor.
On December 23, 2020, the Department of Health petitioned Commonwealth Court through the Attorney General’s office, seeking an injunction against 22 restaurants that continued to offer dine-in services after receiving the bureau’s closure order. The petition asks the court to: 1) issue a preliminary injunction immediately enjoining these restaurants from permitting indoor dining; and 2) award the commonwealth compensatory damages for costs of enforcing the temporary order, punitive damages for willful and wanton violation of the order, and other damages the court deems appropriate.
A county-by-county breakdown of COVID-19 restaurant enforcement actions can be found on the Department of Agriculture’s website. The data will be updated weekly with data from the previous week.
Consumers with general food safety complaints or concerns about non-compliance for COVID-19 mitigation can file a complaint online. COVID-19 mitigation restaurant enforcement actions will be released on a weekly basis.
On January 4, 2021, the temporary order expired. Restrictions in place prior to December 12 resumed, including the following measures in restaurants:
- Self-certified restaurants may open at 50 percent capacity for indoor dining. Restaurants that have not self-certified are at 25 percent capacity for indoor dining.
- On-premises alcohol consumption prohibited unless part of a meal; cocktails to go and carry-out beverages are allowed.
- Serving alcohol for on-site consumption must end at 11:00 PM and all alcoholic beverages must be removed from patrons by midnight.
The Bureau of Food Safety has always operated with an education-first model, and always works to educate and correct issues on-site before taking official action. Businesses will receive a closure order if they are confirmed to be operating in violation of COVID-19 mitigation orders and are unwilling to comply while the inspector is present. If the restaurant continues to operate in any manner following a closure order, the restaurant will be referred to the Department of Health for further legal action, including an action in Commonwealth Court to enjoin the continued operation of the restaurant in violation of the order. Businesses that have not complied with legal orders jeopardize their eligibility for future state funding opportunities.
For more information about the Department of Agriculture’s COVID-19 response, visit agriculture.pa.gov/covid.
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