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National Restaurant Association - No new answers after NYC letter-grade hearing

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No new answers after NYC letter-grade hearing

The New York State Restaurant Association has expressed disappointment at New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's unwillingness to overhaul his administration's controversial letter-grade health inspection system.

At a March 7 oversight hearing in New York, city council members heard testimony from local restaurateurs who testified that the city's current health inspection system is not only unfair, but also prohibitively expensive.

The hearing, which was attended by more than 300 restaurant industry members, was the result of a survey conducted by the city council in January to better understand restaurateurs' criticisms of the letter-grade inspection system, which was implemented in 2010 by New York's department of health. Nearly 100 local operators registered to testify before the council.

Under the current system, restaurants that receive a score of between zero and 13 violation points issued on initial inspection are awarded "A" grades and are then inspected annually. Those that score 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 on a more frequent basis. Operators who get more than 13 points on initial inspection are mandated to have a re-inspection, which then determines their letter grade. In addition they must then spend more money on fines and other costs related to the re-inspections. Those additional costs include hiring sanitation consultants and attorneys to represent them at tribunal hearings.

According to Andrew Rigie, executive vice president of NYSRA's New York City division, more than $40 million in fines has been levied on restaurant operators here since the inspection system's inception.

"Restaurants are paying more money in fines, inspected more frequently, and we believe the system's success is questionable at best," he said.

Rob Gifford, the National Restaurant Association's executive vice president for political advocacy testified at the hearing, saying that while the NRA applauds the city's efforts to protect the public health, "We do not believe that posting letter grades that reflect the results of a sanitary inspection conducted at a single point in time is the best way to ensure safe operations in foodservice establishments.

"Posting a grade on an establishment's front door," he continued, "can give an incomplete and possibly misleading and confusing impression to a guest. A restaurant could get an "A" grade with a critical violation, and a "B" grade with a series of minor violations. Grades reflect a moment in time, not necessarily the current state of sanitation in the restaurant. Ratings can be subjective and guests usually don't know how to interpret them. The end result is a punitive and confusing system."

NYSRA's Rigie said his association would continue to fight against the letter-grade system and is optimistic that they, the city council and the health department will be able to work together to improve the current system and make it more tenable for New York's restaurant operators.

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