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NYC Mayor Takes ‘A’ for Letter Grading Restaurants

Mayor Michael Bloomberg produced some fairly instant analysis earlier this week, crediting New York City’s restaurant-inspection letter grades for both lower rates of Salmonella illnesses and greater restaurant revenues in the Big Apple.

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Based on just nine months of data, the mayor, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley and Health and Human Services head Linda Gibbs went so far as to suggest that the “largely unchanged” rate of Salmonella infections in surrounding areas of New York state, New Jersey and Connecticut would come down if only those jurisdictions also used letter grades in their restaurant inspections.

In a four-page press release accompanying a six-page report, marking the first nine months of New York City’s use of the A through F grading system for an estimated 24,000 restaurants, the mayor says it has already been a great success.

To make their point, the New York officials point to a 14 percent reduction in Salmonella infections, which they claim has not been matched by surrounding areas in the three-state area.   

However, while the Big Apple did experience a drop in Salmonella infections in 2011, its rates remain above those being experienced in the rest of New York state, Connecticut and New Jersey, according to data included in the NYC report.

Only Salmonella is covered in the report. There is no information provided on illnesses caused by other foodborne pathogens, such as E. coli, Listeria or hepatitis  A.

In addition, the report acknowledges the following food safety problems with NYC restaurants:

– Evidence of mice was found at 22 percent of the city’s restaurants.

– Cold food was found at excessively warm temperatures at 27 percent of restaurants.

– Potential for cross contamination of raw ingredients with poultry and other meats was found at 11 percent of the restaurants.

– Dirty or greasy surfaces being used for food preparation were observed 20 percent of the time.

New York inspectors are currently giving As to 72 percent of the city’s restaurants, up from 65 percent when the system got started. City officials claim more As means improvement in sanitary practices, such as hand washing, pest and temperature control, and other public health standards.

“Confidence in clean kitchens is proving to be food for business, just as clean air has been,” Mayor Bloomberg said. “New Yorkers overwhelmingly support the grading system and based on today’s news it’s not hard to say why. Restaurant grades have been good for public health and good for the economy.”

Bloomberg says his city is known for great restaurants and will be known for “food safety too.”

New York City is crediting the letter grading inspection scheme with a 9.3 percent or $800 million increase in restaurant revenue in the Big Apple. Increases in revenue from eating and drinking establishments are more commonly attributed to the rebound in consumer confidence.

The Bloomberg Administration adopted letter grading in 2010, and is about 18 months into the change. That’s enough time for it to make year-to-year comparisons of nine months of data.

“A year and half into the letter grading program, all of the signs are that it is working just as we had hoped,” said Commissioner Farley.  “New Yorkers are telling us that they like seeing the letter grades and they are using them.”

Farley says restaurant food safety practices are improving and “the decline in food-related disease is certainly very encouraging.”

To give New Yorkers more access to the grades, the officials announced a free application for smart phones for locating nearby restaurants and obtaining their grades.

Also, a poll conducted by Baruch College and City University found that 76 percent of New Yorkers feel more confident about a restaurant’s food safety if it gets an A for its inspection.

© Food Safety News