How many don’t get caught; who smuggles clams from Philly to NYC? A fish market in caught

The owner of a Chinatown fish market was arrested yesterday for allegedly selling dangerously dirty clams that she smuggled in on the luggage racks of passenger buses, sources told The Post.

Jin Hua Ke, 51, faces up to four years in jail if convicted of illegal commercialization of wildlife and other charges.

Tests showed high levels of fecal matter and other bacteria that made the clams unfit for human consumption, said Department of Environmental Conservation police, who are investigating the clam scam along with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

“Bottom line is this: Would you want to eat something stored in the luggage cart of a bus since at least Philadelphia?” said DEC Officer Brent Wilson.

Authorities estimate that more than 5,400 pounds of freshwater clams — illegal to import and sell in New York — were trucked from Southern states and delivered to the New Lin Sichuan Fish Market, at 30 Market St., over six months.

Packaged in burlap, about a dozen packages would arrive on each bus Mondays and Tuesdays, according to local shopkeepers.

New York restaurants turn to consultants for inspection help

Trying to navigate the ever-changing demands of local health codes, restaurants in New York City are increasingly seeking out consultants to improve hygiene standards before a city inspector shows up.

It’s not a new concept; the big chain restaurant and grocery stores have been using outside consultants or their own people to ensure their food offerings produced and sold in a safe and hygienic manner. Government inspection sets a minimal standard that the best places strive to exceed – and no one wants to be written up in the local paper or have to display a lousy inspection result because of mistakes that could have been prevented.

The New York Times reports this morning there is an almost entirely unregulated cottage industry that has evolved in New York to run interference with the health department, even pleading the restaurants’ cases at the administrative tribunal where violations can be reduced or dismissed.

Note the conspiratorial angle.

Though the number of consultants in New York appears to be rising, a precise figure is difficult to come by. The health department began requiring that consultants register their names and contact information only last year; as of March 16, the department listed 104. They typically represent about one-third of the restaurants appearing before the tribunal, and display varying degrees of competence in doing so.

Thomas Merrill, the department’s general counsel, said,

“There’s people we have a tremendous amount of respect for. Some of them I don’t know if we’d all hire if we had a restaurant.”

Just like with third-party food safety auditors.

The inspectors issue punitive points for infractions like food kept at the wrong temperature, cutting boards with potentially bacteria-harboring grooves or a lack of proof that the croissants were made without trans fats.

The number of points, and the severity of the penalties, vary with the offense; according to the department’s guide, a “woman in gray slacks carrying poodle on service line” is much less serious than a “woman in gray slacks carrying poodle on service line, man with mustache with a parrot on shoulder at the salad bar, a child with a rabbit at the dining table and a woman with a cat on a leash at coffee bar.”

Who writes this stuff?

The best restaurants flaunt, rather than fear, inspection disclosure

Media outlets in New York and London-lite (the Ontario version) are clamoring for improvements in restaurant inspection disclosure.

The job is easier in New York, because, as reported by, the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene announced that beginning in July of 2010, restaurants in NYC will be required to display their health inspection letter grade so that it is highly visible to customers.

While gaining support from a number of people who believe the system will promote cleanliness and limit foodborne illnesses, many believe the system will be an unnecessary burden on the restaurant community. The following are reactions from managers and employees of several local restaurants.

Randy Richmond of the London Free Press writes that posting restaurant inspection results online will weed out unhealthy operations and protect the public, several local eatery owners say.

It would be better, though, if London could afford more inspectors to ensure more frequent checks, added one owner.

In New York, managers such as Elias Bourakac of Bully’s Deli said,

"I’m for it. The inspection goes through the Health Department. We passed it, we did very good. No problems, no violations."

Frank Berascha of Famous Famiglia said,

"We had almost 90 percent last year. Everything is perfect. I would have no worries."

In London-lite, the health unit is expected to announce Thursday that it will start posting inspection results online and that’s fine by restaurateurs contacted by The Free Press.

Vanessa Willis, co-owner of the Church Key said,

"I think that’s exactly how it should be done. I think the community has the right to know what restaurants are working properly and what ones are not."

Felipe Gomes, owner of Aroma said conscientious eatery owners spend thousands of dollars on equipment, supplies and training to keep operations safe and healthy, and those who cut corners should be exposed, adding, "You are dealing with the health and safety of people."