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National Restaurant Association - NYC operators give letter grades an 'F'

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NYC operators give letter grades an 'F'

Restaurateurs in New York resoundingly agree that letter-grade health inspections are inconsistent, unfair and expensive, a recent city council survey found.

More than 1,000 restaurateurs participated in the January survey, which led to an oversight hearing March 7 hosted by the city council. The hearing, however, did not uncover any new suggestions or amendments to the law that could lessen the compliance burden on restaurateurs.

The survey found that 67 percent of restaurateurs received "A" grades on their health inspections, consistent with the health department's data on grades. Nevertheless, nearly 66 percent rated the city's letter-grading system as "poor" and 68 percent said the system significantly increased the cost of operating a foodservice establishment in New York.

City council Speaker Christine Quinn said the survey's results indicated the inspection process is an "unfair and inconsistent experience for restaurant owners." She questioned, "Why, if the majority of restaurants are getting "A's", are average violation points increasing? Why are fines rising? We can protect public health without harming businesses," she said.

According to NYSRA, individual fines for failed inspections range between $200 and $2,000.

"Restaurateurs are still trying to recover from the volatile economic times of the last several years and can hardly afford the added financial pressures the current letter-grading system has brought to bear," said Diana Reyna, the council's small business chair.

"It is important, especially in these times of economic insecurity, that the city is doing its job effectively and without causing undue burden on business," she said. "Unfortunately, restaurants across the city have overwhelmingly declared our current inspection system as inconsistent and costly. The city council and department of health ... must acknowledge this growing sentiment and make a concerted effort to guarantee that our restaurants are regulated in a safe, sensible and efficient manner."

Under the current system, implemented in 2010, restaurants receiving a score of between zero and 13 violation points on initial inspection are awarded "A" grades and are then inspected annually. Those scoring 14 to 27 points receive a "B" and establishments with 28 or more points get a "C". Restaurants receiving lower grades than an "A" are inspected more frequently. Operators who get more than 13 points on initial inspection are mandated to have a re-inspection, which then determines their letter grade. Additionally, they must spend more money on fines and other costs related to the re-inspections. Those costs include hiring sanitation consultants and attorneys to represent them at tribunal hearings.

Despite the survey's results and numerous calls to modify the inspection system, Mayor Michael Bloomberg remains convinced letter grading is successful.

"New Yorkers overwhelmingly support the grading system ...," the mayor said in a prepared statement last week. "Restaurant grades have been good for public health and good for the economy. New York City is known for its great restaurants and now it will be known for food safety too."

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