April 30, 2010 – The Health Department this week proposed rules and outlined procedures to guide the implementation of New York City’s new restaurant grading system. The city’s Board of Health voted in March to mandate the posting of sanitary inspection grades in restaurant windows – a reform that will better inform consumers about restaurants’ sanitary conditions and motivate restaurant operators to improve them. The proposed rules, available online at www.nyc.gov/html/nycrules/html/proposed/proposed.shtml, provide mechanisms for accomplishing these goals. The agency will accept public comments on the rules until May 26.
In drafting the proposed rules, the Health Department considered comments it has received from the public and the restaurant industry since Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg first announced the City’s plans to adopt a letter grading system. If adopted, the rules will ensure that letter grades reflect practices that bear directly on food safety. Under the city’s inspection system, restaurants receive violation points for lapses in food safety. Under the newly proposed rules, a restaurant receiving 0 to13 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 two or so weeks later. Those scoring 14 to 27 points on their re-inspection would get Bs, and those with 28 or more would get Cs.
Under the proposed rules, restaurants with A grades would be inspected annually, but those receiving lower marks would get more frequent visits. The system would focus City resources on restaurants that warrant the closest monitoring, and would give lower-scoring establishments frequent opportunities to improve their grades.
“Besides helping consumers make more informed choices, letter grades will promote food safety across the city,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, New York City Health Commissioner. “We welcome input from all New Yorkers and restaurants on the proposed rules.”
Each year the Health Department inspects 24,000 restaurants to monitor their compliance with city and state food safety regulations. Though most establishments maintain good conditions, lapses in hygiene and food handling contribute to an estimated 10,000 emergency room visits and several thousand hospitalizations in New York City each year. By encouraging better food safety practices, letter grading could help reduce food-borne illness in New York City. When 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 proposal adopted by the Board of Health, 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. Once the rules are finalized, the Health Department will provide free training to help restaurant operators understand how the program works and how restaurants can avoid sanitary violations. The agency will hold training sessions in multiple languages in all five boroughs. The public can comment on the proposed rules at www.nyc.gov/html/nycrules/html/proposed/proposed.shtml, or in writing. For more information on the proposed restaurant grading system, please visit www.nyc.gov/html/doh/downloads/pdf/notice/2010/Article-81.pdf.