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National Restaurant Association - NY Restaurant Association lands survey on letter-grade health inspections

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NY Restaurant Association lands survey on letter-grade health inspections

Restaurateurs beleaguered by New York City's controversial letter-grade health-inspection system could see some relief soon, thanks to the City Council's decision tosurvey operators on the mandate's impact on business, the New York State Restaurant Association said.

The decision to survey restaurant operators was made Jan. 5 by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, following more than a year of work by the New York State Restaurant Association to have their members' voices heard on how difficult and confusing the letter grade standards are to achieve and the amount of money they spend to defend their businesses when they don't receive an "A" grade upon first inspection.

The survey, which asks restaurant operators about their experiences with the health department's inspections, is available online and must be completed by New York restaurateurs by Jan. 31, said Andrew Rigie, executive vice president of NYSRA's New York City division. He added that the findings of the survey would be addressed at an oversight hearing in February.

"This is the culmination of a lot of advocacy efforts," Rigie said. "Basically, the council's leadership has heard the concerns of our industry, recognized the importance of local restaurants to the city and wants to address their concerns. We do not believe this letter-grade system is an appropriate regulatory mechanism for health inspections, but the reality is we have this system in place. If the current system is not going to be abolished, we need to take this opportunity to reduce the unnecessary burdens it places upon our restaurateurs."

He further noted that NYSRA is working cooperatively with elected officials and the Department of Health to "ensure that the inspection system is fair and equitable. Food safety should be a cooperative initiative between the industry and the health department. It should focus on food-safety training and education and move away from a punitive model."

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 fail their inspections or choose to fight their assigned grades rather than accept them, must then spend additional monies on fines and other costs related to re-inspections. Those additional costs include hiring sanitation consultants and attorneys to represent them at tribunal hearings.

According to Rigie, New York City has levied more than $40 million in fines on restaurant operators since the letter-grade system was introduced in July 2010.

Rigie stressed that NYSRA's goal is to get as many New York restaurateurs as possible to complete the survey.

"It is of the utmost importance to have their concerns heard and addressed by those who have the authority to reduce the regulatory burdens on them," he said.

He added that NYSRA is happy Speaker Quinn and the Council's leadership will address the association's concerns regarding the letter-grade system.

"We're optimistic the results of the survey and [upcoming] oversight hearing will lead to responsible changes that ensure public safety and reduce regulatory burdens," he said.

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