Restaurant Grading in NYC to Measure Hygiene

A+ A+ for the NYC Board of Health! New reform measure will help better inform consumers about
food safety. Following a public hearing and a month-long open comment period,
the Board of Health today approved a reform measure to give consumers more
information on the sanitary condition of New York City restaurants. The new
initiative requires all restaurants to publicly display letter grades that
summarize the results of Health Department food-safety inspections. Besides
helping New Yorkers make informed choices, letter grades will promote food
safety by making restaurants directly accountable to consumers.

Under the new system, restaurants will
receive grades based on the number of violations documented during their
sanitary inspections. Each establishment will post a placard at the point of
entry, showing its current sanitary grade, and restaurants receiving A grades
will be inspected less often than those receiving lower marks.

Letter grades will make the inspection
process more transparent, giving every potential customer instant access to
important information. At the same time, the risk-based inspection schedules
will focus City resources on restaurants that warrant the most scrutiny. The
Health Department plans to enact the new system in July.

“New York City restaurants are among
the world’s best, and these simple reforms will make them even better,” said
Dr. Thomas Farley, New York City Health Commissioner. “Giving consumers more
information will help make our restaurants safer and cleaner. The grade in the
window will give you a sense of how clean the kitchen is – and it will give
every restaurant operator an incentive to maintain safe, sanitary conditions.”

Each year the Health Department
inspects 24,000 restaurants to monitor their compliance with the city’s health
code, and most establishments maintain good or excellent conditions.
Restaurants are fined for health code violations, but public posting of letter
grades provides a stronger incentive to maintain the best sanitary conditions.

The Health Department already posts
restaurant inspection reports on its website. Each report includes a numerical
score reflecting the number and severity of sanitary violations documented. The
inspection process will not change under the new system, but the new letter
grades will be simpler than numerical scores, and consumers won’t need to go
online to find them. Each letter grade will correspond to a range of numerical
scores.

Today’s action authorizes the Health
Department to institute a letter grading system, but specific rules and
procedures have yet to be written. The Health Department will post proposed
rules for a period of public comment before phasing in the new system this
summer.

The ultimate goal is to improve
sanitary conditions and reduce the risk of food-borne illness. Tainted
restaurant food causes several thousand hospitalizations in New York City each
year, and as many as 10,000 emergency-room visits. After Los Angeles instituted
a letter grading system, the proportion of restaurants meeting the highest
food-safety standards rose from 40% to more than 80%, and hospitalizations for
food-borne illnesses fell.

Under the new plan, a restaurant
receiving an A grade will post it at the end of the inspection. If the grade is
lower than an A, the restaurant will not have to post a grade until it has a
chance to improve its sanitary conditions. The Health Department will return
within a month to conduct a second inspection. Restaurant operators who contest
their assigned grades will be able to post “grade pending” signs until they
have had an opportunity to be heard at the Department’s Administrative
Tribunal. 

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