City health officials want incentive payments to entice students as part of efforts to bolster the ranks of Ottawa's food inspectors and meet provincial standards.

The Public Health Inspection Internship Program would provide up to $8,000 to cover tuition and books for students in their final year of an environmental health degree, in exchange for an employment guarantee.

"If council approves (the program) it will be a significant piece of our recruitment and retention strategy," said Coun. Diane Deans.

Auditor General Alain Lalonde warned last year that there weren't enough public health inspectors patrolling Ottawa's eateries. Thirty per cent of high-risk restaurants weren't visited as often as they should have been.

Recruitment has been a challenge thanks to a shortage of certified professionals and uncompetitive salaries.

City restaurants remain safe but the provincial benchmarks must be met, said Dr. Isra Levy, Ottawa's medical officer of health.

"If we can't recruit inspectors and can't retain them, than we are always going to be swimming upstream in terms of the numbers and quality of inspections themselves," Levy told CTV Ottawa on Friday.

The tuition proposal goes before the community and protective services community next Thursday. The plan would also have to be negotiated with the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

The city report recognizes that "the student may not honour the terms of the repayment of the incentive payment in the event that the student does not secure employment with the City."

The city's food safety performed 13,201 inspections in 2008, an 8.5-per-cent jump from the previous year.

With a report from CTV Ottawa's Kate Eggins