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93% of Restaurants Earn An “A” Letter Grade as Violations Plummet

The NYC Health Department has announced that restaurant letter grading has improved food safety in New York City as more restaurants than ever before are earning an “A” grade at the beginning of their inspection cycle. Greater compliance with food safety standards has coincided with a marked decrease in reported salmonella infections, which often result from eating contaminated food. There has also been a 41 percent drop in sanitary violations from the peak in fiscal year 2012.

For food service operators interested in learning how to achieve and maintain an “A” grade, the Health Department announced it will host food safety education workshops in each borough. The first will take place this Thursday at Queens Borough Hall, and the second will be next Tuesday, May 9 at Brooklyn Borough Hall.

“Restaurant letter grading has been an unqualified success for both New York City restaurants and diners,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett.“New York City restaurants are performing better than ever and New Yorkers should feel confident about eating in an “A” grade restaurant.”

“I love the restaurant letter grading system because when my customers see the “A” grade in Junior’s window they clearly know we are running a tight ship,” said Alan Rosen, the third generation owner of Junior’s Restaurant and Bakery. “Since restaurant letter grading was implemented in 2010, I have found the environment between my restaurant operations and the Health Department to be much more cooperative and congenial. The inspectors are better trained in food safety, and the Health Department’s customer service is light years better.”

“The existing letter grading program helps keep our team sharp, while showing our patrons that we embrace going above and beyond for them, be it with flavor, creativity or food safety,” said Christina Tosi, chef, founder and owner of Milk Bar. “We are grade “A” operators through and through with the highest of standards, and the grading program helps convey this in the best and easiest way.”

“By relying on the best scientific data available and input from food safety experts, and restaurateurs themselves, the New York City Health Department continues to have a model restaurant-inspection system that safeguards public health and creates strong incentives for restaurants to keep their kitchens clean,” said Michael Jacobson, president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “With 93% of restaurants earning an “A,” everyone wins.”

“The Health Department’s food safety program is a national model for achieving high food safety standards among restaurants,” said Jennifer Pomeranz, NYU professor of Public Health Law and Policy and member of the City’s Restaurant Advisory Group. “The Health Department’s restaurant letter grading program can be credited with reducing sanitary violations by 41 percent and the salmonella case rate by 32 percent. This should assure restaurant goers that restaurants are safer than ever before.”

Launched in July 2010, the restaurant letter grading program has incentivized city restaurants to improve food safety practices. Today 93 percent of the city’s 24,000 restaurants are posting an “A” grade, up from 81 percent in the first year. Today a record high 62 percent of restaurants are earning an “A” on their initial inspection, which means they don’t need to be inspected again for a full year. Highlights of the program since 2010 include:

Letter grading has reduced food safety violations.

  • There has been a 41 percent drop in sanitary violations from the peak in fiscal year 2012.
  • The percent of restaurants cited for holding cold food at the wrong temperatures has decreased by 38 percent.
  • Signs of mice in New York City restaurants have decreased. There was a 44 percent drop in the number of restaurants cited for evidence of mice.
  • The number of restaurants temporarily closed following an inspection has decreased, from a rate of 5.7 percent in the first year to 2.8 percent seven years later.

Salmonella infections have declined since letter grading was implemented. 

  • The salmonella case rate fell 32 percent in New York City since 2010 – from 15.8 cases per 100,000 in 2010 to 10.7 cases per 100,000 in 2015 – the lowest since letter grading began.
  • In contrast, the salmonella case rate fell only 7 percent in the surrounding regions of New York City (New Jersey, Connecticut and New York State), from 13.4 cases per 100,000 in 2010 to 12.4 cases per 100,000 in 2015.

Restaurants are achieving “A” grades on re-inspection at a higher rate. If a restaurant does not earn an “A” on an initial inspection, they are given the opportunity to improve and be re-inspected about one month later. 

  • Sixty-one percent of restaurants scoring in the “B” range on their initial inspection now earn an “A” upon re-inspection. In the first year of letter grading, 38 percent earned an “A” on re-inspection.
  • Restaurants that score in the “C” range on their initial inspection have also improved upon re-inspection, with 54 percent subsequently earning an “A.” In the first year of letter grading, only 28 percent made that same improvement.

Improved inspection performance has translated into fewer fines for restaurants.

  • Fines paid by restaurants have declined dramatically in the last few years, from $52 million in fiscal year 2012 to $22 million in fiscal year 2016, a 58 percent decrease. Fines paid by restaurants are now at a 10-year low.

The number of restaurant supervisors completing the food protection course has increased.

  • Just over 22,600 supervisors took the course in fiscal year 2010, while nearly 30,900 were trained in fiscal year 2016, an increase of 37 percent.

 

 

 

New York City diners have full confidence in the restaurant letter grading system.

  • According to a 2012 survey conducted by Baruch College at the City University of New York, 91 percent of New Yorkers approve of restaurant grading.
  • Eighty-eight percent of New York City diners use the letter grades in making their dining decisions, and 76 percent feel more confident eating in an “A” grade restaurant.

Food Safety Workshops

For the first time since restaurant letter grading started, the Health Department will host five, two-hour food safety education workshops – one in each borough – for food service operators. The workshops are organized in partnership with the city’s Borough Presidents. At the workshops, participants will review how to prepare and handle food safely, avoid common Health Code violations and learn about recent updates to the Health Code. Participants will receive a copy of their restaurant’s three-year inspection history with recommendations on how to correct violations identified in the report.

The workshops are an opportunity for restaurant operators to ask questions and receive guidance from Health Department staff.  Language interpretation services will be available in Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese Chinese and Bengali.

The first workshop, organized in partnership with Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, will take place on Thursday, May 4, from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. at Queens Borough Hall. On May 9, in collaboration with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a second workshop will be held at Brooklyn Borough Hall from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Workshops in Staten Island, the Bronx and Manhattan are being planned for June.

The workshops are free, but advance registration is recommended. To register, visit nyc.gov/health/foodservice or call the Bureau of Food Safety and Community Sanitation at 646-632-6001.

More information on restaurant letter grading can be found at nyc.gov/health by searching “restaurant letter grading.”

About the Author

New York Trend is a weekly news publication that focuses on issues and lifestyles of the African & Caribbean American communities throughout the New York metropolitan area and Nassau and Suffolk Counties of Long Island. It is a respected and well recognized news publication that has been in existence since 1989. Owner, Publisher and Executive Director, Dr. Teresa Taylor Williams has been at the helm of this award-winning publication since its inception. New York Trend continues to be the only black woman-owned, metropolitan newspaper in New York and Long island. New York Trend is the largest black-owned newspaper throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties.

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