2010-05-14 / Top Stories

Restaurants React To DOH Proposal

By Nicholas Briano

The New York City Department of Health (DOH) is set to implement a new restaurant inspection system this July in which letter grades will be posted in the front window of each establishment, making it visible for the public to see how clean their favorite restaurant really is.

“It absolutely motivates restaurants, you’ll be in trouble if you get a C grade,” Rockaway Seafood manager Chris Miles said.

While most restaurant owners applaud the measure, many of them feel that the system is flawed and that a bad grade on their inspection does not always translate to a dirty establishment.

“I support it as long as it is fair,” said Irish Circle owner Jerry Parrish, who once had his restaurant closed for a non-food related violation.

“You don’t know the things they writeup. None of us have mice running around on our floors.”

But Parrish says when a restaurant fails an inspection, those things are what people immediately think of.

Bay Gull in Broad Channel says the new measures ensure owners are constantly on their toes.

“Stores should be spotless anyway,” owner Pat Williams says. “When the grade is posted for the whole town to see it motivates you even more.”

DOH voted in March to approve the posting of sanitary inspection grades in restaurant windows, a reform DOH says will better inform consumers about restaurants’ sanitary conditions and motivate restaurant operators to improve them. Under the city’s inspection system, restaurants receive violation points for lapses in food safety. Under the proposal, a restaurant receiving zero to 13 violation points would receive a grade of A, which would be posted immediately. Those with more points would get a second chance to improve their scores at a re-inspection about two weeks later. Those scoring 14 to 27 points on their re-inspection would get B’s, and those with 28 or more would get C’s. According to DOH, restaurants with A grades would be inspected annu- ally, but restaurants who received lower grades should expect more frequent visits by inspectors.

But issues of fairness and, often, lack of knowledge of the system plague some restaurant owners such as new Crown Fried Chicken proprietor Roderick Richards, who thought he was doing everything right until a DOH inspector walked into his store.

“He wanted to write me up for drinking a personal supplement drink,” Richards said. “I was told it did not belong behind the counter.”

Richards said they also cited minor issues that did not affect the quality of food or the cleanliness.

“People always tell me how much they like my store and how clean it is,” he added. “Then the inspector comes in and points out all these simple things, some of which I didn’t even know existed.”

Richards and other business owners interviewed believe that DOH should educate the public on the types of violations for each restaurant and what they mean. He believes this could help a consumer make a fair judgment about the restaurant.

DOH believes that the system will encourage better food safety practices and could lead to a decrease in food-borne illness in New York City. According to statistics provided by DOH, 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, and hospitalizations for food-borne illnesses fell.

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