If You Fall Off The (Health) Inspector's Horse, Try, Try Again

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A recent report by political newspaperCity and State revealed startling insight into the Department of Health's letter-grading system. While 77 percent of restaurants garnered the coveted A grade, some have done so only after appealing their initial ranking.

Points are awarded for differing health violations. Two points are deducted for minor problems such as improper thawing techniques, while critical violations that could be considered health hazards (such as hot or cold food being stored in improper temperatures) will cost a restaurant up to 10 points. However, if a restaurant doesn't earn a grade of A during the initial inspection, they are able to appeal to the DOH and post a "grade pending" sign. According to City and State, the average grade in New York City, from the program's inception in Aug. of 2010 to Dec. 2011, is a B.

An interesting (and stomach churning) divide is illustrated in the study that was released. It seems that some cultural cuisines are cleaner than others with German, Polish, and Bangladeshi restaurants getting the dubious honor of the highest number of violations per inspection. The city's 24 Bangladeshi establishments, which garner average of 14.7 violations every time the health inspector comes around still get a grade of an A 58 percent of the time. In contrast, Pakistani establishments, which represent the mean of average scores, have nearly half of their locations posting a grade of B or Grade Pending.

Did the Department of Health consider the somewhat politically incorrect nature of the formatting of this report? Is dividing cuisine by country of origin P.C.?

Critics of the new system say that it was devised as a new source of revenue which is costing small businesses thousands of dollars. Currently fines are levied to all restaurants with violations, even those who earn an A. According to Andrew Rigie, the Director of Operations for the New York State Restaurant Association, the increased frequency of inspections is also forcing these restaurants to spend money on sanitation consultants, as well as attorneys to represent them during the appeals.

The city introduced the new system as a way to fast track restaurants into correcting health violations. Indeed many of them have cleaned up their act to get better grades. Pak Nashamen, a Coney Islandbased Bangladeshi restaurant, earned a stomach churning 111 points on an inspection in Sept. of 2011. This inspection wasn't graded and they appealed the decision. During a follow up six days later, Pak Nashamen only racked up two points of violations. If that's not progress, I don't know what is.

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