Councilman David G. Greenfield is pleased to announce that the New York City Council is moving forward with a legislative package that will reform the city’s restaurant inspection system. These proposed laws come directly as a result of complaints and concerns that Councilman Greenfield and many of his colleagues have heard directly from restaurant owners over the past few years.
These reforms are intended to ensure that the inspection process is fair, efficient, consistent and accountable and to eliminate the arbitrary and unfair aspects that have left countless frustrated restaurant owners inundated with expensive violations that are often completely unrelated to food service or safety. Among the major concerns that Councilman Greenfield and restaurant owners share about the current system is the sharp increase in the number of fines issued since the letter grade system was implemented, inconsistencies across inspections and adversarial relations between restaurants and city inspectors.
“We can protect public health without harming businesses, and this legislation will do just that,” said Councilman Greenfield at Monday’s announcement at Jerry’s Café in lower Manhattan alongside Council Speaker Christine Quinn. Greenfield noted at the press conference that under the current system, “food safety is no longer the focus” as the emphasis under the current administration has shifted to collecting revenue for the city. He relayed the story of one local restaurant owner who had an inspector pour bleach over a $3,000 shipment of cheese that had just arrived from a refrigerated truck and was one degree off the required temperature, and another who was fined for having wet floors after having just finished mopping.
“The complaints I have personally heard from restaurant owners in my district made it clear that the current inspection system requires a serious overhaul in order to restore fairness for all parties. On behalf of hard-working restaurant owners who contribute so much to our city, I am thrilled that the Council is taking real steps to bring about meaningful change,” said Councilman Greenfield, who hosted a town hall meeting last year to hear directly from local restaurant owners and has since fought for legislation to address these legitimate complaints.
“With this package, we’re taking steps to ensure that the restaurant inspection process is fair. The bills improve the lot of struggling restaurant owners while preserving a system that is valuable to – and more importantly protects the safety of – New Yorkers,” said Speaker Quinn. “The restaurant industry, with its foundation of small businesses, is the lifeblood of New York City and our legislation includes important measures so that restaurants can continue to thrive without jeopardizing public health.”
Specifically, the new legislative package will result in across the board fine reductions, provide fine waiver for restaurant owners who contest an initial inspection’s findings and ultimately receive an ‘A’ letter grade, offer restaurants a consultative and ungraded inspection for educational purposes, establish an ombuds office to address complaints, develop an inspection code of conduct pamphlet that inspectors will distribute prior to an initial inspection, create an advisory board to ensure ongoing review of the inspection program, and provide relief from violations relating to the physical layout or structure of a restaurant.
This announcement comes just over a month after Councilman Greenfield questioned Health Department officials including Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley and Executive Deputy Commissioner Dr. Adam Karpati at a City Council hearing about the number of fines issued to restaurants in recent years. He directly asked Dr. Karpati if the city maintains data on the types of violations issued that resulted in $40 million in fines the city collected in the last fiscal year to determine what percentage is related specifically to food handling and safety. Dr. Karpati did not have that information available at the hearing but stressed that the “vast majority” of the violations were directly related to food-safety issues. However, a week later the New York Post reported that approximately 66 percent of the fines issued over the past two years were for issues unrelated to food safety or quality.
(YWN Desk – NYC)