Back to School: New York City Restaurants Receive Letter Grades for Sanitary Conditions

Monday, July 12, 2010

Starting later this month, color-coded grades based on restaurant food-safety conditions will begin appearing in prominent locations to the entrances of New York City’s nearly 24,000 eating establishments.

The grading system, finalized in June by the city’s Health Department, is based on the number of points a restaurant receives for violations of the Health Code. Restaurants with fewer than 13 violation points will receive a blue, “A” grade.
Restaurants that earn between 14 and 27 points will be awarded a green “B” grade. Those establishments that have more than 28 points will receive the third and lowest grade, a yellow “C.”
As the new system rolls out, restaurants presented with a grade lower than an “A” will have an automatic re-inspection at least a week later. If the second inspection still results in a “B” or “C” grade, the restaurant can appeal the assessment and post a “Grade Pending” sign while awaiting a final ruling.

See the new grades

The Health Department said the grades provide diners with more information about the state of cleanliness in New York City’s restaurants.
“We think food hygiene practices can be improved in New York City,” said the city’s health commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley. He said posting grades based on food safety inspections would give restaurants an economic motivation to improve sanitary conditions or risk losing business.
“I don’t think that it’s going to have an impact that will make a huge difference,” Farley said, “but it will be just enough of an incentive for them to improve their practices.”
Robert Bookman, legislative counsel in New York City for the New York Restaurant Association--which has criticized the new grading program--disagreed.
“What you will see is many restaurants who are getting ‘Bs’ and ‘Cs’ either going out of business or laying off people because they are going to lose business,” he said.
The department expects nearly half of the city’s restaurants will receive a “B” grade as the program begins. Similar results occurred in Los Angeles County when it implemented a restaurant grading system in 1998. Four years later, over 80 percent of restaurants had an “A” grade.
Bookman said the food inspection systems are extremely different for New York City and Los Angeles and, he added, letter grading is a “gimmick.”
“It doesn’t give you any real information,” he said.  “The actual inspection report gives you real information” and the grades will only be “misleading and confusing” for diners.  He said the restaurant inspection program in New York City is about generating millions of dollars in fines each year.
The Health Department disagrees and says the goal of the program is to improve the health of New Yorkers by improving sanitary conditions in restaurants throughout the five boroughs.
“The ultimate goal of the program is reduce food-related illness in New York City,” said Farley.
The department already conducts more than 55,000 restaurant inspections each year. As the grade program launches over the next year, it expects the number of inspections could increase by nearly fifty percent. The department plans to increase the number of inspectors from 156 to 180 and has budgeted $3 million this year--$125 per restaurant--to launch the grading system on top of the current inspection budget, which has averaged nearly $3.4 million in previous years.
The Health Department said it will take nearly 14 months before nearly every restaurant in New York has a posted grade. But not every place will have a grade: school and hospital cafeterias and street vendors will be exempted from the program. The health commissioner said those locations require a different inspection process.


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Comments [11]


Today at lunch I had to eat a peanutbutter and jelly sandwhich
Because they didnt have enough food....i thought schools are
Suppose to have a plate if food for everybody.

Feb. 06 2012 12:06 PM
Cliff Hendroval

I have no idea why this would be controversial. North Carolina has been doing this for over 40 years - each restaurant has its scorecard prominently posted with the letter grade, and underneath the grade is the inspector's signature and the actual inspection score.

Jul. 15 2010 11:11 AM
Amanda from Briarwood, NY

Only in New York City would the Health Department devise such a counter-intuitive grading system when LA's familiar percentile approach is just sitting there.

And unfortunately I agree with those who've commented that the Department is probably too corrupt to treat the new standards as anything other than a new source for bribes.

Jul. 13 2010 01:03 PM
Judd from nyc

Check out for the worst restaurants in NYC.

Jul. 13 2010 08:49 AM
New York News Consumer from Sunset Park, Brooklyn, New York

I'm am terribly disappointed that WNYC is devoting an entire week of news coverage (?) on a new restaurant inspection policy. This is an enormous world city, filled with ten millions of stories, and we need a five-part series on...letter-grades for restaurant inspection? Complete with reporting from Los Angeles? Worse, the reporting isn't even particularly thorough or deep. I learned nothing from Tuesday's segment that wasn't petty clear Monday's segment.

I am often disappointed by the shallowness and narrowness of WNYC's local news coverage, but this is a new low of irrelevantness.

Jul. 13 2010 08:46 AM

Why are we stuck with ABC. Sounds like a network ploy. If the alphabet is used, why not: A=awfully dirty, B= barely clean and C=clean.

Jul. 12 2010 08:24 PM
Mark from Washington Heights

I was a food service manager for a well reputed business and industry contractractor. I can assure you that this new system, as opposed to "watch out if over 28 points" will provide yet another opportunity for corruption and payoffs within the system. What's a "C" to a "B" worth, $5000? Sit back and watch it happen.

Jul. 12 2010 08:20 PM
Peter from Brooklyn

I am a Chef, but more importantly, an avid restaurant goer and foodie. I think this letter grading is a terrible system. A little dirt never killed anyone, we are becoming way to sanitized and it is getting us sicker and more allergic to everything. Some of the best places to eat are just kinda nasty.

Jul. 12 2010 02:58 PM
Brooklyn Luva from Brooklyn

Looking for a violation?

Park Plaza Diner on Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn recycles their coleslaw and pickles, and salads are dished up by hand.

A Former Employee

Jul. 12 2010 09:31 AM
Art Rabin

I don't know what priorities the LA Health Dept has but I can tell you as someone who has worked in the restaurant industry for over 20 years that the NYC Health Dept has for the last several years only one real priority: REVENUE GENERATION. Inspectors, just like traffic officers who are more interested in writing gotch ya parking tickets than moving traffic are under great pressure to find violations and thereby produce revenue. For example, I know of a deli that for over 50 years has displayed its potato knishes in the window without one single report of a resulting illness or a violation for this all of a sudden this year gets a violation. Any restaurateur can tell you that the many of the inspectors are inexperienced and are clearly afraid that if they don't "find" violations there will be consequences from their supervisors.

Jul. 12 2010 08:31 AM
Angela from North Bergen NJ

It's about time! The more educated a consumer is the more informed choices he/she can make. Plus, this will also force businesses to maintain standards or better standards now that everyone could potentially see their grade :)

Jul. 12 2010 08:05 AM

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