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Health Dept. Grading System in NYC


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#1 paulraphael

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Posted 03 August 2010 - 07:24 AM

The New York City Health Department now requires restaurants to display a summary of their inspection score (A, B, or C) in the front window.

Today's Times ran an article on challenges to its fairness.

Here's the health dept.'s page where you can search for current and past inspection details.

I'd be curious to hear reactions to the new system from diners and restaurant workers alike.

#2 AAQuesada

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Posted 03 August 2010 - 01:58 PM

San Diego pioneered this years ago, and Los Angeles followed suit a few years later. I am sure there will be some complaining at first but then you just deal with it. Public humiliation is pretty good incentive to stay clean. I don't know exactly how NYPH works, but usually there is a provision to get retested within a couple weeks if there was a lower grade issued and if you still can't fix the issues you can pay to re-test.


http://www.lapublichealth.org/rating/

#3 David A. Goldfarb

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Posted 03 August 2010 - 07:14 PM

Don't some European cities have this? I know I've seen it when traveling.

I have an iPhone/iPod Touch app called "NYC Restaurant Scrutinizer" that lets you look up NYC restaurant inspection reports.

#4 Toliver

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Posted 04 August 2010 - 10:01 AM

San Diego pioneered this years ago, and Los Angeles followed suit a few years later. I am sure there will be some complaining at first but then you just deal with it. Public humiliation is pretty good incentive to stay clean. I don't know exactly how NYPH works, but usually there is a provision to get retested within a couple weeks if there was a lower grade issued and if you still can't fix the issues you can pay to re-test.


http://www.lapublichealth.org/rating/

I was going to mention San Diego's grading system. I used to work at a movie theater in San Diego while I was a college student and we had to pass health dept. inspections. If there were problems/violations, we always passed the re-test.
When dining out with friends, there were a couple of times we did pass on some restaurants after seeing a "C" posted in their front windows. So the grade system worked for us as consumers.
The caveat is, of course, that the grade is a one-day reflection of the cleanliness of a restaurant on the day of the test (as are all health department inspections). It could have been a good day for them, or a bad one. As a restuarant patron, you just have to hope the grade reflects their overall cleanliness.

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'
Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”
– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”


#5 Dave the Cook

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Posted 04 August 2010 - 10:34 AM

The caveat is, of course, that the grade is a one-day reflection of the cleanliness of a restaurant on the day of the test (as are all health department inspections). It could have been a good day for them, or a bad one. As a restuarant patron, you just have to hope the grade reflects their overall cleanliness.


In most cities, a restaurant being inspected will phone others in the area to alert them. That means that in at least some cases, the kitchen will be in better-than-usual shape, because the crew had time to clean up.

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#6 AAQuesada

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Posted 04 August 2010 - 12:34 PM

Even with advanced notice you can only do so much you can do if you are not already in compliance. It's easier to stall in a hotel where they have to get by security first.

#7 paulraphael

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Posted 04 August 2010 - 03:49 PM

Even with advanced notice you can only do so much you can do if you are not already in compliance. It's easier to stall in a hotel where they have to get by security first.


If the place is a disaster, sure, but there are little things, like putting on gloves. In NYC the law says that you have to wear latex gloves to handle food that's ready to eat, but you never see anyone in a higher end restaurant kitchen using them. At that level people just wash their hands religiously. It's customary, I think, for everyone to slip into gloves when the inspector is walking down the hall.

#8 AAQuesada

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Posted 04 August 2010 - 05:10 PM

Hah! true. Most high end kitchens have very high standards of cleanliness and sanitation as long as you wash often that's not so big a deal IMO. In L.A. they say you can't hang tongs on oven doors which is also common. The important stuff is hard to change like food being held at the wrong temp. I still say if the place is worthy of a 'B' you WILL get caught, usually because the chef(sous chef or kitchen manager) is lax on staff or inexperienced.

How often have you seen an Itamae at a good sushi house wearing gloves?!

#9 paulraphael

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Posted 05 August 2010 - 08:28 AM

How often have you seen an Itamae at a good sushi house wearing gloves?!


I've wondered about that a lot, especially since the chef is on display while working. Makes me wonder if the inspectors look the other way under certain circumstances.

#10 Toliver

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Posted 05 August 2010 - 10:48 AM

In most cities, a restaurant being inspected will phone others in the area to alert them. That means that in at least some cases, the kitchen will be in better-than-usual shape, because the crew had time to clean up.

I'm don't recall that being the case in San Diego. The multiplex I worked at during college was in a strip mall next door to a greek fast food joint. The inspector who inspected us had pre-designated restaurants on their list to visit so their inspection route didn't usually include the place next door. It wasn't efficient but they always had the element of surprise on their side.

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'
Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”
– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”


#11 Jason Tobacks

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Posted 08 February 2013 - 06:35 PM

This site just added an easy way to see NYC restaurant inspections, http://www.bitescore.com They were featured on techcrunch and they actually work pretty smoothly. They integrate with seamless, opentable, zagat, and menus pages if you guys want to check it out.

#12 Rainee

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Posted 21 March 2013 - 08:28 PM

I will tell you something about NYC health inspections.

I have no problem with the grading system in principle. It makes sense that people should have an easy way to know if a restaurant has issues with cleanliness or food safety.

 

However, the system as implemented in NYC has very little to do with this goal. 

 

Before the grading system, I used to average about 2 inspections per year per establishment.  The inspectors would write up violations, and point out any other issues that weren't actual violations but could lead to problems.  They would suggest fixes.  When they came back, they would check to see if problems from the previous visit had been addressed.  After the first couple visits, it was common to have visits with no violations.

 

After the grading system, I get 4-6 inspections per year per establishment (and this is with A grades.  I hear it is even more frequent if you get lower grades.)  The inspector writes up violations, but does not discuss them or any other conditions with you.  I have never had a visit that did not result in at least 2 violations after the grade system was instituted (you can get up to 14 points and still get an A.)  The next time an inspector comes (almost always a different person), they write up totally different violations that were not mentioned in the previous inspection.

 

According to both anecdotal and statistical studies conducted by the city council, I am not alone in this experience.  The health department has increased the amount of revenue from restaurant fines to around triple what it was before the letter grades.  They continue to add complexity to the food service codes, which now fill a book the size an old city phone book (if anyone remembers those.)  Even the inspectors usually aren't familiar with all the rules.  They pick and choose what to enforce in order to meet quotas for violations.

 

If the goal of the system were public safety, and if it were working, then I believe the number of A grades should increase over time as more restaurants clean up and come into compliance.  Instead, the proporation of different letter grades has stayed constant over time, with a lot of movement back and forth between A and B grades for many establishments.  I am frustrated as an owner because I am trying to comply with the codes, but they are so complicated and enforcement is so inconsistent that I probably need a consultant (guess who that would be - retired health department inspectors.)