Tweaking Restaurant Inspections

City Council Bill Would Reduce Burden Of Fines

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the Health Department announced they are releasing for public comment new restaurant grading rules designed to reduce fines and provide additional educational resources to help restaurants maintain their high health standards and succeed throughout New York City.

In the last fiscal year, fines collected fell 23 percent from its peak in fiscal year 2012. Under the new rules, which include fixed penalties, restaurants will see a further reduction of 25 percent in fines, returning to pre-grading levels despite more frequent inspections. Restaurant owners will also have the opportunity to request a consultative, ungraded and penalty-free inspection to receive tailored advice about maintaining the best food safety practices at their establishment.

“The City Council has worked extensively to reform New York City’s restaurant grading system,” said Mark-Viverito. “These new rules will provide much needed fine relief to the City’s restaurants and will strike a balance between fairness to restaurants and upholding safety standards, and I thank the de Blasio Administration for working with the Council on this important issue.”

“The de Blasio administration is committed to care for the health of all New Yorkers and the success of our businesses. These important steps will help restaurant businesses succeed by expanding the city’s efforts to educate and work collaboratively with them to comply with our rigorous health code, making the process more consultative and less onerous. I commend the city Council for their leadership and look forward to working with them as we begin to implement the new inspection and fine protocols,” said Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Lilliam Barrios-Paoli.

“Restaurant letter grading began as a way to motivate restaurants to practice better food safety and allow the public to make more informed decisions about where to safely dine,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett. “And the program is working. Over 90 percent of New Yorkers approve of letter grading, and as restaurant performance has improved, reported cases of Salmonella in New York City have decreased 14 percent compared to the rest of the state. We are pleased to have worked with the City Council to build on the success we’ve already seen so diners can feel even more confident that restaurants are practicing good food hygiene.”

In addition to the reduced fines and penalty-free inspections, the collaboration between the city Council and the Health Department will make the entire inspection process more transparent and inclusive of small business owners.

The City Council has worked to reform the city’s restaurant grading system. In October, following comprehensive forums, hearings, and a citywide restaurant inspection survey conducted by the Council, the Council passed a sweeping legislative package to improve the oversight and the performance of the restaurant inspection system.

The legislation established a new position of ombudsperson in the Office of Food Safety to respond to restaurant complaints, and expanded the department’s food safety advisory committee, which includes nutritionists, food safety experts, and representatives from the restaurant industry. This committee will provide an ongoing review of the letter grading program.

“After New York City’s small businesses spoke loud and clear about their issues with the restaurant inspection process the City Council moved swiftly to address their concerns,” said City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer, whose legislation now allows restaurants the ability to request a consultative, ungraded and penaltyfree inspection. “By working closely with the Department of Health we were able to reinvent the restaurant inspection process and make it more transparent. Together we will help maintain the bottom lines of our city’s restaurants to ensure they continue to succeed. I am proud to have worked with Speaker Mark- Viverito and my colleagues to enhance our landmark restaurant inspection reforms which will continue to save small business owners millions in unnecessary fines.”

The Health Department also announced the implementation of two other changes negotiated with the Council. Restaurants whose scores become less than 14 points after adjudication on its initial inspection will not have to pay any fines for the remaining sanitary violations on that inspection. Additionally, the Health Department will not issue a violation for a structural problem if prior inspections failed to notice it and conditions have not been changed, though the restaurant will still be required to fix it.

Launched in July of 2010, the Health Department began requiring restaurants in all five boroughs to post letter grades to help achieve three goals: to inform the public about a restaurant’s inspection results in a simple, accessible way; to improve sanitary conditions and food safety practices in restaurants; and to reduce illnesses associated with dining out.

Today, 88 percent of restaurants in New York City post an A grade, while the number of restaurants with B and C grades has dropped significantly, with just 10 percent of restaurants postingaBand2percentpostinga C. Every restaurant is afforded two opportunities to earn an A grade, and among restaurants that score in the B range on their initial inspection, 50 percent earn an A upon re-inspection, up from 38 percent in the first year of letter grading.

Restaurants have also received fewer violations in some of the most important food safety areas. There has been a decrease in the percent of restaurants cited for evidence of mice, and other critical violations, such as inadequate hand washing facilities, foods being kept at the wrong temperature, and inadequate worker hygiene, have also declined. Altogether, the increase in A grades and decrease in violations has allowed 34 percent of restaurants to avoid paying any fines in fiscal year 2013.

For more information on grading please visit www.nyc.gov/health/restaurants.

More from Around New York