(This editorial is part of a series. You can find earlier entries here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.) Per Se, an upscale and expensive restaurant in Manhattan, found itself on ABC News recently – not for the great food, but for the less-than-stellar health inspection it received on Feb. 19, 2014. This disclosure went from a posted sign with a letter grade and a listing on NYC’s website to the living rooms of millions of people watching the evening news. Usually the reports involving restaurants focus on menu items, nutritional labeling and the occasional rodent caught on camera. Was it a slow news day, or did someone drop a dime to the media because of bad service, a conflict of interest or just to spread the word to the masses? Per Se scored 42 points in health violations on this most recent inspection, which resulted in a “C” grade. Improper holding temperatures (both hot and cold), issues with a handwashing facility, and wet wiping cloths not properly stored in sanitizer solution were all cited as “Critical” by the NYC Department of Health. Unfortunately, the lack of food safety by this establishment seems to be a trend. On Dec. 18, 2013, they scored 43 points, and, on Dec. 13, 2011, 41 points were dished out. Sometimes you get what is eventually coming to you, especially if repeated problems involve thermal abuse, one of the leading causes of foodborne illness. No matter what side you are on concerning the pros and cons of public health and sanitation and how it is rated, disclosed and fined, one thing is clear, New York City’s Health Department can also improve.

  • Update the website. It is dated March 2012, and Michael Bloomberg is no longer the mayor.
  • List the condition levels (1-5) that were cited on the inspection. This will give greater clarity about what was actually observed. How many items were out of temperature and by how many degrees?
  • The “Critical” violations need to be reassessed. One wet wiping cloth stored out of sanitizer solution that still has a sufficient amount of sanitizer soaked into it should not be “Critical” and not cost $300 each.
  • Clarify the proper time and temperature for rare roast beef. Presently, there is no documented guidance.
  • List the fines per violation. On the website, the fines per violation can be $200-$2,000 and higher for repeats. This is vague and shifty, especially if the amounts fluctuate depending on citations. Has there been any progress on the promised $20-million fine reduction?
  • List the restaurants that have paid for the food safety training that has promised to be offered.
  • Has a mediator been assigned yet to work between the restaurants and the NYC Department of Health?

Proper food safety is integral to protecting both consumer health and operational liability. Expectations and consequences should be made clear, and training should be ongoing and consistent.