March 16, 2010 – 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, please visit www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/notice/notice.shtml