NEW YORK (AP) — Giving letter grades to the thousands of restaurants in New York City — from humble delis to celebrity chef-powered eateries — has been a boon to business and has led to a decline in the number of cases of salmonella food poisoning, the mayor and health officials said Tuesday.
Some city council members, however, say the grading system is far from perfect and needs to be reviewed. Restaurant industry representatives complain of excessive inspections and burdensome fines on small businesses.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas A. Farley and other health officials announced initial data Tuesday showing salmonella infections decreased by 13.5 percent over the first full year the city has used letter grades. The Health Department said 1,296 cases of salmonella were reported in 2010 and preliminary data show 1,121 cases in 2011.
Further emphasizing that sanitary conditions are improving, the officials said more than 72 percent of the city’s 24,000 restaurants earned “A” grades compared to 65 percent a year ago. They also highlighted the most recent tax data available showing restaurant sales were up 9.3 percent from June 2010 to February 2011.
“It just may be that clean kitchens are as good for business as clean air is when a restaurant is smoke-free,” Bloomberg said at a news conference held at Zero Otto Nove in the Bronx.
The city started handing out letter grades in July 2010. Restaurants can get an A, B, or C, based on points for sanitary conditions. Restaurants have to post the grades in a visible area such as a street-facing window or door. Common sanitary violations include food stored at improper temperatures and evidence of vermin.
The largely positive announcement, which included the release of survey results showing New Yorkers largely approve of the grading system, came a day before the City Council was expected to hold a hearing on restaurant letter grades.
Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, who supports the system, was nonetheless critical of it, saying in a statement Tuesday that the city’s data show “a wide variability” in grades from “inspector to inspector in the same restaurant and an enormous increase in fines.”
The Health Department officials said fines have been declining as restaurants improve their food safety practices. Inspectors go through rigorous training and must use computerized inspection worksheets for each restaurant, they said.
Andrew Rigie, a spokesman for the New York State Restaurant Association, said the grading system was punitive and a financial burden on small business owners.
“If you define success as taxing small business owners and making their lives miserable, then letter grades have been a complete success,” Rigie said in an email, adding that the association that represents 4,000 restaurants in the city hopes the City Council “will take a more enlightened approach toward public health.”
Restaurants can contest inspection findings at an administrative tribunal and have their grades changed, during which time a “grade pending” sign appears in place of the letter grade. Repeatedly receiving a “C” grade on inspections leads to an increased frequency of inspections.
Problems so severe that they cannot be corrected while an inspector is there — such as insufficient refrigeration — could put a restaurant at risk of being shut down.
City officials also announced Tuesday that the restaurant grades are now available on an app for iPhones and iPads called ABCEats NYC.
Associated Press writer Samantha Gross in New York contributed to this report.
Follow Cristian Salazar at Twitter.com/crsalazarAP
More Related Stories
- Mississippi could begin prosecuting women for miscarriages
- Teenage girl claims she was beaten up for looking like Taylor Swift
- UK Military: London attack victim was a "model soldier"
- Billionaire hedge funder: Babies, breast-feeding "kill" focus, keep women from succeeding
- "Bookless library" set to open in Texas
- 2 more arrested in London attacks
- Glenn Beck: CNN interview with atheist tornado survivor was a setup!
- Incoming BBC news director on journalism gender gap: "We can do better"
- Illegal construction, shoddy materials at fault in Bangladesh factory disaster
- Ahead of Obama's speech, U.S. acknowledges four American drone killings
- Must-see morning clip: Bill O'Reilly visits "The Daily Show"
- Lawsuit alleges anti-gay hiring practices at ExxonMobil
- Boy Scouts poised to vote, still greatly divided on gay youth
- House supporters of KXL received $56m from fossil fuel industry
- 80-year-old becomes oldest to climb Mount Everest
- Before FBI shooting man implicated self, Tsarnaev in triple murder
- Paul McCartney backs Pussy Riot
- UK emergency committee convenes after attack
- Brave scout leader tried to reason with London attackers
- If Alex Pareene were a cable news executive...
- El Salvador court delays ruling on abortion case while woman's life hangs in the balance
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11