NYC: Health department slacking on restaurant inspections

Next July all restaurants in New York will be required to publically display a sanitary grade in their windows, but unless the health department steps up inspections many establishments won’t have much to disclose, reports New York Times Online.

New York City’s health department failed to inspect one in every five [22 per cent] restaurants during the 2008 fiscal year, according to an audit issued by the city comptroller’s office on Monday.

City comptroller, William C. Thompson Jr., said,

“The Health Department is charged with protecting the health and well-being of New Yorkers, but, unfortunately, its internal controls for ensuring that health code violations at restaurants are corrected in a timely manner were found to be flawed.”

“It is important to ensure that compliance inspections are performed timely. Otherwise the danger that foodborne illness could occur as a result of unsanitary conditions being allowed to continue is increased.”

Marion Nestle, a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University, said inspections are critical, but not all of the inspection criteria is equally significant,

“Cooking food to proper temperature and storing food to proper temperature are important food-safety matters,” she said. “Other things seem less important, like whether you stack forks with the fork part up or down.”

Nestle supports public posting of hygiene grades, saying,

“Places like Los Angeles that give grades have a lot more clout. You go to a B place, you better eat your food hot.”

Inspections in NYC are unannounced, completed by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Food-service establishments, including restaurants, mobile units and cafeterias at schools and senior centers are inspected.