NYC links drop in foodborne illness to grades

I’m all for restaurant inspection disclosure but all against bogus evidence to win rhetorical points in the public arena.

The night before a hearing on the public display of letter grades, New York City mayor Michael “Lenny” Bloomberg told collected journos that salmonella is down more than 13 percent over the first full year of restaurant inspection disclosure because of improved food sanitary practices by restaurants striving to achieve better grades.

The mayor — speaking with the health commissioner, Dr. Thomas A. Farley, and Deputy Mayor Linda I. Gibbs — announced that “New Yorkers overwhelmingly support the grading system,” citing a recent survey by Baruch College at the City University of New York. It showed that 91 percent of New Yorkers approve of restaurant grading and 88 percent consider letter grades when dining, according to a telephone survey conducted in January and February.

Surveys don’t mean much.

Dr. Farley said salmonella infections were significantly reduced in New York City, but remained unchanged in the rest of New York State, Connecticut and New Jersey.

He added that the city’s restaurants had made significant improvements in sanitary practices, since more than 72 percent of them earned A grades, up from 65 percent a year ago.

The same compliance results have been seen around North America and elsewhere in the 13 years I’ve been involved and long before that; it’s cute that NYC is catching up.

Mr. Bloomberg said, “Restaurant grades have been good for public health and good for the economy,” adding that “New York City is known for its great restaurants and now it will be known for food safety, too.”

Hang on there, Lenny. There’s lots of caveats with inspection and disclosure. The available evidence – which is extensively documented on but even I’m getting tired of writing about it – is a draw at best. Links to reductions in foodborne illness are speculation, bordering on false-hope.

Disclosure is good. Leave the self–aggrandizement and rhetoric to pro athletes and lawyers.

The mayor also announced a new free mobile app for iPhones, IPads and IPod Touch devices called “ABCEatsNYC,” which lets New Yorkers check letter grades from any street corner in the five boroughs. The app is listed under the title “NYC Restaurant Grading” at the iPhone App Store, and can be downloaded after searching for mobile devices.

Michael J. Fox is a great Canadian.