By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The city deserves an “A” grade for its new rules on grading restaurants for cleanliness, according to two Brooklyn council members.
Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst) and Councilman David Greenfield (D-Borough Park-Midwood-Bensonhurst) were both singing the praises of the new system of grading restaurants.
“These reforms will help make the grading system less adversarial, more cooperative, more educational and more transparent,” Gentile said. “We must never forget that small businesses are the backbone of our economy – and in order to help these businesses grow and succeed, inspectors must work with restaurant owners rather than attempt to catch them off guard and penalize them.”
Restaurants have been required to post the letter grade from their most recent Department of Health inspection in their front window since 2010 when the system was introduced by the Bloomberg Administration. While the new plan doesn’t get rid of the letter grading system, it does reduce the number of fines, council members said.
Under the plan, fines for low-severity issues that are not related to food safety would be reduced by 50 percent. Approximately 60 percent of all violations currently issued fall into this category, Greenfield said.
In addition, under a new agreement between the council and Dept. of Health, restaurant owners will be absolved from paying any fines if the inspection results in a point rating of 14 or less.
Owners will also have an opportunity to rectify any structural issues with their building before receiving a violation.
The city will take steps to educate restaurant owners on the health regulations so that they can better comply and meet the Health Department’s expectations at the next inspection.
“The new system will help ensure that a fair system is in place that focuses on the need to keep the public safe instead of using restaurants as an endless revenue source for the city,” Greenfield said.
Greenfield met with a group of disgruntled restaurant owners last year and heard complaints about over-aggressive inspectors who were causing major disruptions to their businesses. Greenfield and other council members began pushing for reforms.
The council worked extensively to reform the city’s restaurant grading system, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said. “These new rules will provide much needed fine relief to the city’s restaurants and will strike a balance between fairness to restaurants and upholding safety standards and I thank the de Blasio Administration for working with the council on this important issue,” she said.
The legislation established a new position of ombudsperson in the Office of Food Safety to respond to restaurant complaints, and expanded the Department’s food safety advisory committee, which includes nutritionists, food safety experts and representatives from the restaurant industry.
When the Health Department began requiring restaurants in all five boroughs to post letter grades in 2010, the goal was to improve sanitary conditions and food safety practices in restaurants and to reduce illnesses associated with dining out, council members said.
Today, 88 percent of restaurants in New York City post an A grade, according to council members who cited statistics from the Health Department.
For more information on letter grading, visit www.nyc.gov/health/restaurants