2009-12-25 / Top Stories

DOH Votes On Inspection Grades

The Board of Health recently voted to solicit public comment on a proposal to publicly grade New York City restaurants on their sanitary conditions. Under a new system proposed by the Health Department, restaurants would receive grades of A, B or C, depending on the conditions documented during sanitary inspections. Each establishment would have to post its most recent grade in full view of potential customers – and those receiving B’s and C’s would be in spected more often than those meeting the highest standards for food safety. The new system, which the board could institute by amending the New York City Health Code, would concentrate City resources on the least sanitary restaurants while placing no additional burden on establishments that maintain the best conditions. The Health Department inspects 24,000 restaurants each year to monitor their compliance with the City’s Health Code and to reduce the risk of food-borne illness. By making the results easy to understand – and putting them on public display – the new system would help consumers make more informed choices about where to eat, while giving restaurants a strong incentive to stay clean. Currently, about 30 percent of the City’s restaurants would qualify for A grades, 40 percent would get B’s and 26 percent would get C’s.

“Many restaurants in New York have excellent food-safety practices,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, New York City Health Commissioner, “but too many operate at the margin. Customers should know how closely restaurants are following health department standards for sanitation before they sit down to eat. When they do, restaurants respond, and that’s good for everyone. When Los Angeles instituted a letter grading system, the proportion of restaurants meeting the highest food safety standards rose from 40 percent to more than 80 percent.”

The inspection process itself would not change under the new system. Inspectors would continue to assign violation points to rest au rants for Health Code violations that affect food safety. Restaurants receiving 0 to 13 violation points would receive A grades. Those with 14 to 27 points would get B’s, and those with more than 28 points would get C’s. Besides posting letter grades near restaurant entrances, the Health Department would make them readily accessible on its website.

A restaurant receiving an A will post its grade card at the end of the inspection. A restaurant receiving a B or C will not be required to post its grade immediately. These establishments will be re-inspected within a month, giving them a chance to improve. The grade from the second inspection will have to be posted, but a restaurant may elect to not post the grade until it has had the opportunity for a hearing at the City’s Administrative Tribunal on the Notice of Violation issued at the inspection. While the restaurant’s inspection results are under review, the restaurant will post a card indicating that its grade is pending.

For more information on the proposed restaurant grading system, please visit www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/notice/notice.shtml

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