About time: Boston restaurants could face steep fine if they don’t post food safety

Matt Rocheleau of the Boston Globe reports that Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh is asking the City Council for approval to fine restaurants $300 per day if they fail to post their food safety inspection letter grades in their storefronts.

ny_rest_inspect_disclosureRestaurants and food trucks would have a year to comply after the launch of the letter-grade system being developed for restaurants citywide, though the grades would be available on the city’s website.

The city’s Inspectional Services Department has been developing the program. Officials there have said restaurants would receive either an A, B, or C grade.

The program would resemble rating systems that New York, Los Angeles, and other cities have been using since as early as the late 1990s. Locally, Newton launched a similar program in the fall that requires numerical ratings to be displayed inside restaurants.

Boston officials have previously told the Globe that letter grades will be issued to all of the city’s roughly 3,000 food establishments, including restaurants, food trucks, cafeterias, and other food vendors.

When an establishment gets a low grade, inspectors will return within 30 days to reinspect, city officials have said. If the violations are corrected, the city would bump up the grade accordingly. If the issues remain, the grade would stand until the next routine inspection, officials have said.

Restaurants would be subject to the $300 fines if they fail to post their letter grades “immediately after receipt, unobstructed, at eye-level, facing outward on an exterior-facing wall or window within five feet of the main entrance in the interior of the restaurant,” according to Walsh’s proposal to the council, which was previously reported on by the Universal Hub website.

The council is due to take up the matter at a meeting in City Hall on Wednesday.

The new rating system would not cost the city any extra money, city officials have said, because it would calculate grades based on the existing system used to inspect restaurants.


Pittsburgh restaurant operators express distaste for proposed grading system

Over a dozen local restaurant operators Tuesday evening convened in an Allegheny County Health Department public hearing, where they chewed and spat out an A-B-C grade system based on compliance with food safety procedures.

restaurant_food_crap_garbage_10If passed, Allegheny County residents will see letter grades posted on the doors of all public eating facilities by early September — including restaurants, church kitchens, schools, supermarkets, nursing homes and pool snack bars.

“We’re basically providing an easily interpretable mechanism by which the consumer can interpret our inspections,” said Jim Thompson, deputy director of environmental health.

Grading would be based on compliance with 33 categories of safety provisions that span from tossing expired food and washing used cutlery to providing separate changing facilities and toilets for employees. Any grade below an “A” will require a follow-up inspection of the establishment. Further reinspections may be requested once every calendar year for a fee of $150 at the owner’s expense. Imminent health hazards — such as roof leakage onto food or major cockroach infestations — will warrant the immediate closure of the eatery.

The grading system is a hot potato for Allegheny County restaurant owners, who successfully challenged a similar proposal in March 2011. “It feels a little bit like Groundhog Day,” quipped Kevin Joyce, owner of the Carlton, Downtown.

As in 2011, the central concern of local operators is an alleged misallocation of $3.4 million in federal funds to combat foodborne illnesses. “There are only 17 inspectors for over 9,000 facilities and no measures to ensure consistent grading across the board,” said Mehrdad Emamzadeh, a veteran of the hospitality industry.

Opponents of the program also noted that letter grades would constitute but a “snapshot in time,” unreasonably penalizing human error in a public fashion that would “virtually ruin reputations.” Mr. Emamzadeh, along with two restaurant owners, vowed not to open new establishments in the county if the grade plan were enacted.

Sri Lanka goes for public letter grading of restaurants, food places

The Health Ministry has taken steps to grade all food handling establishments under the H-800 Food Handling Establishments Inspection system, with the objective of ensuring food security in Sri Lanka, Health Ministry Additional Secretary Palitha Maheepala said.

Under this programme the ministry has taken measures to educate and advise the owners and food handlers on safe food practices and formulate an action plan to improve food safety, ensure and maintain quality and safety of food and upgrade food handling establishments.

"As a result of urbanization, most of the people in our society buy food from food handling establishments. So it is important to ensure the food security in all hotels, bakeries, groceries, supper markets, snack bars and other food establishments."

These establishments will be categorized under four categories namely A,B,C and D, in order to ensure food safety. The ministry will offer a certificate by mentioning the grade that they have obtained and they should display their certificates at their establishments, which would be easy for the general public to get an idea about food establishments, Health Ministry, Environmental and Occupational Health Director T.B.Ananda Jayalal said.

1,350 out of 10,000 food handling establishments inspected by the Health Ministry officials have obtained the A grade.

Letter-grade preferred: designing a national restaurant inspection disclosure system for New Zealand

Systems to rate local restaurants are widely available – letter grade A, B, Cs in Los Angeles and New York, red-yellow-green in Toronto, smiley faces in Denmark. But which system do consumers and restaurant operators prefer?

In New Zealand, the letter-grade won.

Two years ago, New Zealand, a country of 4.4 million people, partnered with Kansas State University to try and figure out what disclosure system best served New Zealanders?

New research published in the Journal of Food Protection details the New Zealand consumer and foodservice operator preference for a national inspection disclosure system.

The research suggested a four-tiered letter grade card (A, B, C, or F) designed to represent a restaurant’s inspection result best met consumer and operator expectations. The study suggested cards placed at a premises’ principle entrance, at eye level, and unobscured by other signage or menus was key in attracting initial consumer attention.

Former graduate student Katie Filion and food safety professor Dr. Doug Powell designed the research in collaboration with the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (now part of the Ministry of Agriculture). Filion spent a year in New Zealand, designing and pre-testing different signs based on a comprehensive review of the literature (Filion and Powell, 2009), conducting 991 consumer intercept interviews, and 269 interviews with restaurant operators.

“No one has determined the most effective way to present inspection results to the public but a good system has several characteristics," Filion said. "It should have clear guidelines about what earns a good or bad grade and should communicate to diners the risk of eating at a particular restaurant."

“Such public displays of information may help bolster overall awareness of food safety amongst staff and the public,” said Powell. “People routinely talk about this stuff. We want to improve the systems that are out there.”

The authors acknowledge the New Zealand Food Safety Authority for providing the funding and opportunity to conduct this research and the New Zealand districts that participated in the research trial.

Designing a national restaurant inspection disclosure system for New Zealand
Journal of Food Protection 74(11): 1869-1874
Katie Filion and Douglas Powell
Department of Diagnostic Medicine/Pathobiology, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas 66506, USA
The World Health Organization estimates that up to 30% of individuals in developed countries become ill from contaminated food or water each year, and up to 70% of these illnesses are estimated to be linked to food service facilities. The aim of restaurant inspections is to reduce foodborne outbreaks and enhance consumer confidence in food service. Inspection disclosure systems have been developed as tools for consumers and incentives for food service operators. Disclosure systems are common in developed countries but are inconsistently used, possibly because previous research has not determined the best format for disclosing inspection results. This study was conducted to develop a consistent, compelling, and trusted inspection disclosure system for New Zealand. Existing international and national disclosure systems were evaluated. Two cards, a letter grade (A, B, C, or F) and a gauge (speedometer style), were designed to represent a restaurant’s inspection result and were provided to 371 premises in six districts for 3 months. Operators (n = 269) and consumers (n = 991) were interviewed to determine which card design best communicated inspection results. Less than half of the consumers noticed cards before entering the premises; these data indicated that the letter attracted more initial attention (78%) than the gauge (45%). Fifty-eight percent (38) of the operators with the gauge preferred the letter; and 79% (47) of the operators with letter preferred the letter. Eighty-eight percent (133) of the consumers in gauge districts preferred the letter, and 72% (161) of those in letter districts preferring the letter. Based on these data, the letter method was recommended for a national disclosure system for New Zealand.

Related review:
Filion, K. and Powell, D.A. 2009. The use of restaurant inspection disclosure systems as a means of communicating food safety information. Journal of Foodservice 20: 287-297.

The World Health Organization estimates that up to 30% of individuals in developed countries become ill from food or water each year. Up to 70% of these illnesses are estimated to be linked to food prepared at foodservice establishments. Consumer confidence in the safety of food prepared in restaurants is fragile, varying significantly from year to year, with many consumers attributing foodborne illness to foodservice. One of the key drivers of restaurant choice is consumer perception of the hygiene of a restaurant. Restaurant hygiene information is something consumers desire, and when available, may use to make dining decisions.

Lousy restaurant grade? Hide it (but don’t get caught)

More than a year after New york City first required restaurants to post Health Department inspection grades, some owners of Greenwich Village eateries are doing their best to hide less than perfect ratings.

Andrea Swalec of DNAinfo writes that Famous Ray’s Pizza of Greenwich Village racked up 54 violation points in a June 7 health inspection, but its posted C grade — the lowest mark a restaurant can get without being shut down — was nearly impossible to see when DNAinfo looked for it last week.

Only a pale outline of a C, which is usually bright gold, was visible at the Sixth Avenue pizzeria, at 11th Street.

"Why does it matter?" a Famous Ray’s manager who would not identify himself said by phone when DNAinfo called to ask why the sign wasn’t clearer.

Health Department rules require grade signs to be posted "on a front window, door or outside wall where it is easily seen by people passing by." The card must be placed within five feet of the entrance, from four to six feet off the ground.

The pizza joint was inspected again Aug. 11 and received 26 violation points — which earns it a B grade.

However, its offenses include "evidence of mice or live mice present in facility’s food and/or non-food areas," according to city Health Department restaurant inspection data.

At the Subway sandwich shop at 315 Sixth Avenue, DNAinfo noticed on Aug. 8 that its C grade was posted on an easy-to-miss side window, between bright promotional signs.

Subway moved the sign to the shop’s door after a reporter pointed out its placement.

"We have moved it. Thanks for letting us know," manager Mohammed Mazar said when asked to comment on the sign.

The sandwich shop was cited for evidence of mice, improper sanitation of food preparation surfaces and not keeping cold foods cold enough, records show.

The Health Department has issued 123 violations to restaurants that did not place grade signs in the required locations, according to a department report on the first year of the grading system.

Rule-breakers can be fined as much as $1,000 for a first offense and $2,000 for subsequent offenses.

Nearly 90 percent of New Yorkers surveyed in July by Baruch College said they considered restaurant grades when deciding where to eat.

New York inspections reveal new A-list for restaurants

Charlie Sheen may have texted a porn star that, “I’m an A-lister” but that don’t mean much when it comes to food safety.

Glenn Collins writes in the New York Times tomorrow that after six months of restaurant inspection grading in New York City, nearly 60 per cent of some 24,000 restaurants in the city have inspection scores that rate an A, from a liberal sprinkling in Chinatown to a true sanito-palooza of nine blue A placards in the food court at Grand Central Terminal.

Meanwhile, some of the city’s most highly regarded restaurants have struggled to get on the A list. In December an inspector disturbed the hushed precincts of Corton, which The New York Times gave three stars, to dispense 48 points for a possible C grade. Similarly, restaurant Daniel, the winner of four stars, received an initial B score of 19 in November. Even the haute Bernardin, another four-star winner, received a B score of 22 in August. Each endured derision from food bloggers for a few weeks before earning A grades on later inspections.

Fancy food don’t mean safe food.

Two other three-star restaurants — Le Cirque, with a score of 30, and Gramercy Tavern, with a score of 35 — were assessed enough violation points to earn C grades. On Dec. 7, Esca, another three-star restaurant, received 25 points on its first inspection and 18 points on a reinspection three weeks later. (The scores would earn the restaurant a B.)

If there is an apparent preponderance of A’s, it is not because the city is trying to be generous, said Daniel Kass, a deputy health commissioner. “There are more A’s at this point,” he said, “because the A’s get issued immediately.”

The mayor is expected to address the issue of letter grading today in his annual State of the City address.

But the Web site, nyc.gov/health/restaurants, shows that, as of Tuesday, 12,469 restaurants had scores that would give them an A; 7,892 earned scores that would rate a B; and 1,665 have scores that would qualify as a C.

Mr. Mazzone of Chicken Masters is expecting an inspection “any day,” he said, and is looking forward to it “like root canal.” What would he tell restaurants with a more complex menu array than his inventory of chicken, ribs and burgers?

“That’s simple,” he said. “They should move to Jersey.”

No health scores on window cards, but a better website for San Francisco diners

Mission Local reports members of the San Francisco Health Commission unanimously approved a resolution yesterday to hire more health inspectors and make the health inspection process itself less mysterious.

Notably absent from the resolution was a recommendation that president James Illig proposed an hour before to the Community and Public Health Committee: to require food establishments to “post the most current inspection scorecard in a window or other locations visible to the public.”

Instead, the resolution included a request for bi-annual reports outlining the progress of the city’s goal to routinely inspect restaurants twice per year, another request for more comprehensive cost reports (there’s some uncertainty as to whether the fees gathered by health inspections cover the cost of running the department), an urging to fill health inspector positions that have been vacant for months and an overhaul of the Department of Public Health’s web site to allow the public easy access to current and past restaurant inspection reports.

Restaurants are already required to post their health inspection reports, said Richard Lee, the Department of Public Health’s Director of Environmental Health and Regulatory Programs. But the report is often posted in hard to find places, if at all. And there is no requirement that they post the green card accompanying the report that shows the restaurant’s most recent inspection score.

Someone got a star: NYC Health Dept.’s first Grade A bestowed

A small deli in Long Island City, Queens, will go down in local history as being the first business to earn a Grade A from the city’s health department, which implemented its new restaurant inspection grading system on Tuesday.

Crain’s New York Business (photo from Crain’s) reports the agency is holding a press conference Wednesday morning at Spark’s Deli on 2831 Borden Ave., where health commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley will laud the small business’s accomplishment.

Co-owner Jose Araujo said,

“We serve a lot of hard-working people, construction crews and mechanics. And now they’ll know for sure that I provide good food. … We’ve done well in past inspections. There’s always something to fix or be done better, but we’ve never failed an inspection.”

On Tuesday an inspector visited his business, awarding him with a score of 10.

According to the new letter grading system, in which restaurants receive either an A, B or C grade (or fail the inspection altogether), a score of 0 to 13 qualifies as an A.

Other restaurants were inspected on Tuesday and earned A’s, but Spark’s was the first, according to health department officials.

New web site, letter grades go into effect for New York City diners

The New York City health department unveiled a new Web site today to go along with the beginning of its A-B-C restaurant inspection disclosure system of more than 24,000 restaurants in the five boroughs.

Daniel Kass, a deputy commissioner, told The New York Times,

“There is no shortage of sources of information on restaurants, but there is no other central source to find information about restaurants’ hygiene practices. We hope that this Web site will help spread the food safety message.”

The Web site displays restaurants’ current A, B or C letter grades and the specifics of their violations, and is designed to allow searches by restaurants’ first names or even first letters, by letter grades in specific ZIP codes, by boroughs and by dates of inspection. It also offers maps of restaurants’ locations, and Google street views of the restaurants’ exteriors.

John La Duca, the department’s director of online editing said a widget on the home page will permit readers to type in restaurants’ names for their latest inspection results. This widget can be installed on other Web sites or home pages — for example, on the Zagat Survey’s online version, or on bloggers’ sites, or Facebook and other social media platforms — to permit quick access to the inspection ratings from places other than the department’s home page.

Inspection results on the site were formerly updated weekly, Mr. Kass said. “Now, in most cases, it will be updated daily, when it is uploaded overnight from the inspectors’ hand-helds,” he said, referring to the portable computers in which inspectors enter restaurants’ cleanliness scores.

Associated Press commemorated the beginning of the new letter grades by recycling old arguments – the same ones heard when Los Angeles started it’s a-B-C system in 1998 and Toronto started its red-yellow-green system in 2002.

Robert Bookman, a lawyer for the New York State Restaurant Association, which vehemently opposes the letter grades, said,

"Some will undoubtedly close if they get a B or a C."

Others say they accept the new system and will strive for an A.

David Chang, whose hotter-than-hot restaurants include Momofuku Noodle Bar and Momofuku Ko, said,

"It is our goal always to get an A," said. "If we don’t get an A, we fail."

Chang said he has sent his sous chefs to city Health Department workshops to get up to speed on the new system.

That’s a much better approach. The best restaurants will not only embrace the letter grades and provide critiques to improve the system, they will brag and promote their A grades. It’s a form of marketing food safety, which helps enhance the overall culture of food safety.

Madelyn Alfano, who owns nine Maria’s Italian Kitchen restaurants, said Los Angeles restaurateurs still are not fond of the system, adding,

"If you don’t have hand towels in your restroom that’s points off. We don’t like it but we’ve learned to live with it."

That’s because paper towels should always be available. And what about a sticker on the dispenser that says,

“No towels? Please tell a server immediately. Yours in hand cleanliness, the owners.”

I just made that up.

Larry Michael, head of food protection for North Carolina’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said letter grade systems also are in effect in North and South Carolina, and the system works well, adding,

"Consumers really pay attention to the rating cards. The A, B, C system is familiar and it’s easy to interpret."

For those still wondering, here’s a review paper discussing the pros and cons of disclosure systems.

Filion, K. and Powell, D.A. 2009. The use of restaurant inspection disclosure systems as a means of communicating food safety information. Journal of Foodservice 20: 287-297.

The World Health Organization estimates that up to 30% of individuals in developed countries become ill from food or water each year. Up to 70% of these illnesses are estimated to be linked to food prepared at foodservice establishments. Consumer confidence in the safety of food prepared in restaurants is fragile, varying significantly from year to year, with many consumers attributing foodborne illness to foodservice. One of the key drivers of restaurant choice is consumer perception of the hygiene of a restaurant. Restaurant hygiene information is something consumers desire, and when available, may use to make dining decisions.

Avoiding ‘C’ food in New York City

According to the New York Post, some of the city’s best-known eateries are lucky the Health Department is starting to hand out letter grades next week — instead of last month — because thousands would have ended up with a bottom-rung "C" plastered in their front windows.

Officials estimate that about 6,000 of the city’s 24,000 eateries had enough violation points in June to have earned the lowest mark on a three-letter rating scale devised by the city.

The "C" restaurants would have ranged from the Lion, a sizzling new spot in Greenwich Village, to the venerable Gallagher’s steakhouse in Midtown, to the century-old Katz’s deli emporium on the Lower East Side.

Even Radio City Music Hall’s snack bar made the "C" list.

The Health Department plans to award "A" grades to restaurants that accumulate no more than 13 violation points; "B" to those with 14 to 27 points; and "C" for 28 or more points.

Restaurant owners and managers contacted by The Post who would have faced a "C" last month were surprisingly supportive of the grading system.

"It’s for the sake of public health — I’m perfectly OK with that," said Jake Dell, son of the owner of Katz’s deli, which accumulated 47 points on its record for such infractions as evidence of roaches and mice, as well as bad plumbing.

Like every restaurateur contacted, he said the conditions cited by inspectors have since been corrected. A reinspection July 6 brought Katz’s score down to 23 — in the "B" range.