June 15, 2010 – Today, the Health Department announced the final rules and procedures to implement New York City’s new restaurant grading system. The rules, available online at nyc.gov/health, ensure that the letter grades posted in restaurant windows reflect practices and conditions that relate to food safety. In developing the rules, the Health Department considered input it received from the public and the restaurant industry during a month-long comment period. Starting June 15, 2010, the agency will offer free workshops on the new rules for restaurant owners and operators in every borough and multiple languages. The first graded inspections will occur in late July.
“New York City is justly famous for its restaurants,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, New York City Health Commissioner, “and many of them have excellent food-preparation practices. Too many, though, are not operating as safely as they should. Letter grading enables diners to make more informed choices about where to eat. And by making the inspection system more transparent, it gives restaurant operators an added incentive to meet the highest standards in food safety.”
Under the new system, restaurants with A grades will be inspected annually, but those receiving lower marks will get more frequent visits. The new system focuses City resources on restaurants that warrant the closest monitoring, and gives lower-scoring establishments frequent opportunities to improve their grades.
In March, the city’s Board of Health voted to mandate the posting of sanitary inspection grades near restaurant entrances – a reform that will better inform consumers about restaurants’ sanitary conditions and motivate restaurant operators to improve them. The Health Department released proposed rules to implement the reform for public comment in April. Under the now final rules, a restaurant receiving 0 to13 violation points on an initial inspection would receive a grade of A, which would be posted immediately. Those with more points would get a chance to improve their scores on a re-inspection conducted a short time later. Those scoring 14 to 27 points on the Re-inspection would get Bs, and those with 28 or more would get Cs. If a restaurant wants to contest a B or C grade, it can post sign that says Grading Pending until it has had a chance to be heard at the Health Department’s Administrative Tribunal. It will take a little over a year for the Health Department to issue grades to all of New York City’s restaurants. Until then, consumers can check the agency’s restaurant inspection website for inspection results.
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 declined.
Food-borne illness also occurs from cooking and eating in the home. The Health Department encourages New Yorkers to carefully clean ready-to-eat food, disinfect surfaces and utensils used to prepare raw meat or other potentially hazardous foods, separate foods to prevent cross-contamination, cook and maintain foods at proper hot or cold temperatures, and keep kitchens free of pests and dangerous chemicals. To learn more – or to get more information on the Health Department’s free workshops for restaurant owners and operators – please visit nyc.gov/health.