Money or safety? Restaurant inspection outrage in NYC

Restaurant owners are pissed.

According to data from the New York City Health Department, cited by the New York Post, most fines issued over the past two fiscal years — 65.7 percent so far this year and 66.7 percent last year — are for breaches unrelated to food quality (maybe they mean safety – dp), according to stats obtained by The Post.

For instance, 11.5 percent of the 273,999 fines issued in fiscal year 2012 and 12.1 percent of the 198,779 given out so far this fiscal year were written for, ceilings and equipment being poorly maintained.

Another 11.5 percent so far this year and 11.2 percent last year were issued to restaurants being inadequately vermin-proof.

Fines for sanitary conditions, which include mice sightings and dirty and greasy food-contact surfaces, totaled about 14 percent both this year and last year.

The largest number of fines — 29.8 percent of this year’s total and 31.9 percent last year — are categorized as “all others,” which two leading restaurant advocates say are almost entirely unrelated to food.

“Many of them are non-food related — dimly lit light bulbs, not having the proper documentation to show that a product has no trans fats in it,” said Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, which represents nearly 1,000 restaurants and bars. “I don’t think many people would consider that directly related to food.”

Inspectors can only inspect to the code they’re given.

Other common fines unrelated to food quality include bathrooms running out of paper products, cracked tiles, dirty aprons — even scratched cutting boards, Rigie said.

All of those count, for various microbiological reasons.

Robert Bookman, lawyer for the alliance, contends the Health Department issues these summonses to generate money for the city’s coffers. The amounts of fines vary widely.

“It’s just revenue generation. There aren’t enough serious violations,” Bookman said.

Now, reports Grub Street via  Bloomberg, 40 Bronx restaurant owners filed a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court today that alleges they received unjust treatment from fine-happy Health Department inspectors. The coalition of owners say they have been unable to keep up with an “arbitrary, capricious and malicious enforcement of the health code” and insist they are targeted by city employees who haven’t even been properly trained. The group seeks $150 million in damages and a stay of all fines incurred through the inspections. Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the city’s Law department released a statement calling the suit a “rambling, scattershot attack on the city’s regulation of food service establishments” and promises it will be “quickly rejected by the courts.”

The best restaurants, farmers, retailers, whoever, will go above and beyond government standards and brag about them.