Thursday, February 5, 2009

Restaurants to Post Letter Grades Under Health Inspection Rules

Customers will soon be able to tell what grade any of the city’s 25,000 restaurants received in their most recent health inspection simply by glancing at a sign posted in the window or doorway.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Deputy Senate Majority Leader Jeff Klein announced last weekend that the city is updating its restaurant inspection system in an effort to improve sanitary conditions and give consumers more information. About 1,000 people become sick each day from eating in city in restaurants, which serve about 800 million meals each year.

Under the new guidelines, the city Health Department will increase the number of inspections for less sanitary restaurants and will requiring all establishments to post letter grades in its window or vestibule. The latter measure has been championed by Senator Klein (D-Bronx), who has made restaurant safety one of his top priorities. Currently, the inspection scores are only available online or at the health department.

“Today’s announcement is a great step forward towards improving the overall public health of all New York City residents,” said Klein. “As someone who has spent years advocating for a more consumer friendly system, I am thrilled that New York City diners will finally have easy access to the latest inspection results of their favorite restaurants. Having a letter grade posted for all diners to see will provide a real incentive for restaurants with a ‘C’ hanging in the doorway to clean up their act.”

The new system will be phased in over the next two years to give restaurant owners time to comply with the requirements. In addition to using letter grades A, B and C to rate restaurants that pass inspection, the city will also increase the amount of times failing establishments are inspected.

“This approach will concentrate city resources on the restaurants that pose the greatest risk to public health and place no additional burden on establishments that maintain sanitary conditions,” the city said in a statement.

“We know New York City’s restaurants are the best in the world and we want them to also be the cleanest,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “This new system will encourage the less sanitary restaurants to clean up – and won’t punish the good guys. As sanitation improves, so will business. The more residents and tourists that can trust the food they buy in New York City restaurants, the more likely they are to patronize them.”

This year, Senator Klein plans to again introduce legislation that will require all local health departments across the state to implement a letter grading system, which is also used in Los Angeles. “Whether New Yorkers are dining out for a routine meal or to celebrate a special occasion, their only reservations should be to book a table,” he said. Since 2000, the senator has released regular reports called “Enough to Make you Sick,” which examines the sanitary conditions at city restaurants and supermarkets.

According to the city, extra scrutiny of city restaurants is warranted, as food-related illness “is a source of growing public concern” among residents. Complaints about foodborne illness have increased in recent years, and rodent infestations are a common problem in restaurants.

The Health Department reports signs of rodents in a quarter of restaurants inspected and estimates that more than 11,000 New Yorkers are treated in emergency rooms annually for restaurant-related food illnesses – at a cost of $130 million annually.

“By requiring restaurants to publicly post grades, the new food safety initiatives will help consumers make more informed choices about where to eat, while increasing restaurant operators’ motivation to stay clean,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, the city health commissioner. “New York City will have safer restaurants and fewer cases of food poisoning.”

Research from other cities has found that requiring restaurants to publicly post inspection grades leads to increased business at establishments with higher grades, forces restaurants to improve their sanitary standards and results in fewer cases of food-borne illnesses.

The new model will also bring the city closer to the federal Food and Drug Administration recommended schedule of at least three full inspections every year for full service restaurants. Currently, most city restaurants are inspected just once a year.

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