Nosestretcher alert: cleanliness is not the same as safeliness; NYC restaurant grade myths

In sports, fans and especially parents can get excited about a bad call by the referee/umpire/line judge whatever. As a coach, I would tell kids, let it go, one call does not make the difference; it’s the whole game or season.

So when a restaurant lawyer whines, why can losing one point on a restaurant inspection in New York City, say for a small crack in the ceiling, make the difference between a B and an A grade, I say, it doesn’t; the grade is reflective of cumulative performance.

Students make similarly useless arguments, something like, “I just need that extra point to get an A.”

“Maybe you should have completed the assignments throughout the semester.”

The Atlantic has a piece on competing opinions about restaurant inspection grades in New York City, laid out as a duopoly between arbitrary health inspections and restaurant victims.

Restaurant inspection is subjective; every inspector is different, everyone has their own values and biases. But reading the restaurant owners in this piece verifies my preference for disclosure.

Iggy’s, a pizzeria in New York City’s East Village, is well-priced, homey, and remarkably clean on the inside. The floors are spotless, the pizza display case is free of smudges, and the steel counters glisten.

"Anyone can walk into my restaurant and see it’s clean," says Ignatius Sono, the
owner of Iggy’s.

But clean doesn’t mean safe, as noted on the inspection report.

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOH) says Iggy’s is far from being perfectly clean and was given a B grade for infractions that include "Hot food item not held at or above 140º F," and "Food worker does not use proper utensil to eliminate bare hand contact with food that will not receive adequate additional heat treatment."

The story has the usual unsubstantiated claims from Mayor Bloomberg about reductions in Salmonella because of grades, and the usual whines from restaurant types about how unfair the whole thing is.

The best restaurants will stop whining and start marketing food safety.