Food Illness Down, Restaurant Revenue Up Since Letter Grading Began
By NYC.gov - MAR. 06, 2012
Mayor Bloomberg, Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Linda I. Gibbs and Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas A. Farley announced today that reported salmonella infections, an important indicator of foodborne illness, fell 14 percent during letter grading’s first full year to the lowest level in the last 20 years. In addition, total restaurant sales in New York City increased 9.3 percent – $800 million – in the first nine months since grading began compared to the year before. New York City’s restaurants have made significant improvements in food sanitary practices with more than 72 percent of the City’s restaurants earning “A” grades, up from 65 percent a year ago.
The increase in “A” grades reflects fewer violations of public health standards such as inadequate hand washing facilities, food not being held at cold or hot enough temperatures and having conditions conducive to pests, according to a report on the program’s progress released today. The Mayor also released results of a new survey conducted by Baruch College at the City University of New York revealing that 91 percent of New Yorkers approve of grading and 88 percent of those surveyed consider letter grades when dining. And now restaurant grades are more accessible than ever with “ABCEats NYC,” a new app that lets New Yorkers check a restaurant’s letter grade from any street corner throughout the City. The Mayor made the announcement at Zero Otto Nove in the Bronx.
“Confidence in clean kitchens is proving to be good for business, just as clean air has been,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “New Yorkers overwhelmingly support the grading system and based on today’s news it’s not hard to see why. Restaurant grades have been good for public health and good for the economy. New York City is known for its great restaurants and now it will be known for food safety too.”
“With restaurants making improvements, diners across the city have many more ‘A’ grade restaurants to choose from,” said Deputy Mayor Gibbs. “New Yorkers are paying attention to grades in restaurant windows and restaurant operators are clearly paying attention to food safety practices and cleanliness. Restaurants are making the grade and early results show foodborne illness is declining.”
“A year and a 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. Restaurants’ food safety practices are improving. And the decline in food-related disease is certainly very encouraging.”
“The Health Department’s new ABCEats NYC app puts more power in the hands of New Yorkers, enabling them to make informed restaurant decisions, quickly and easily,” said Rachel Sterne, Chief Digital Officer, Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment. “Thanks to the GPS search, users benefit from fast, mobile access to inspection grades and detailed results. The Health Department is already a leader in digital engagement, and this is a great example of how technology can help New Yorkers take advantage of City services.”
Launched in 2010 to improve communication about restaurant food safety practices with the public, promote greater compliance with food safety rules by restaurant staff and ultimately to reduce foodborne illnesses, the grading system has encouraged the majority of restaurants to correct safety violations before being re-inspected.
New Yorkers are experiencing fewer illnesses caused by salmonella, a common and useful indicator of trends in food-related illness, in the first full year since the grading system took effect. The 14 percent drop in the NYC salmonella rate from the previous year brings salmonella to its lowest level in 20 years. By contrast, salmonella rates in the rest of New York State, Connecticut and New Jersey were largely unchanged. The report also notes that foodborne illness outbreaks in the City occur in restaurants with a significantly higher average number of food safety violation points.
The report also showed that key food safety violations are less prevalent than in the year prior to grading. Some of the violations most associated with foodborne illness – such as not having a trained food protection supervisor on duty, inadequate hand washing facilities for food workers, holding food at unsuitable temperatures – are now occurring less frequently. The percent of restaurants without an on-site trained supervisor has decreased from 13 percent before the program to just 7 percent today. Though signs of mice can still be seen in some NYC restaurants, there has been a 10 percent drop in the number of restaurants that receive violations for signs of mice based on their initial inspection from 32 percent to 22 percent since the start of the program.
As more restaurants improve food safety practices their diligence is paying off. In the past year 41 percent of restaurants paid no fines, compared to 19 percent of restaurants paying no fines the year before grading began. In the two years leading up to the grading program, restaurant revenue saw increases of just 2.1 percent and 2.7 percent. However, for the period from June 2010 through February 2011, the first available tax data from the New York State Division of Taxation and Finance since grading started, restaurant revenue climbed 9.3 percent, $800 million, representing three times the increase seen in each of the two years beforehand.
The percent of New York City restaurants posting “A” grades in their front windows increased from 65 percent at the program’s six-month mark in January 2011 to 72 percent today. At the beginning of each inspection cycle, restaurants receive initial inspections. If they do not earn an “A “on this initial inspection, they are given the opportunity to improve and then re-inspected one month later. As of January 2012, 41 percent of restaurants earned “A”s on their most recent initial inspection, up from 20 percent at the start of grading and from 27 percent at the six-month mark. Restaurants that earn an “A” on their initial inspection are not fined for any violations found and do not begin another cycle of inspections for 12 months.
Diners use the grades in their decision-making, as a new survey conducted by Baruch College at the City University of New York revealed, with 88 percent of those surveyed considering letter grades when dining out and 76 percent feeling more confident in a restaurant’s food safety if it has an “A” grade posted. The Baruch College poll also showed that 91 percent of New Yorkers approve of grading and 88 percent approve of the city’s approach of more frequent inspections for “B” and “C” graded spots than for restaurants earning “A”s. The survey consisted of a random sample of 511 New York City adults who were contacted by telephone from Jan. 31 through Feb. 5, 2012.
Beginning today, New Yorkers can check a restaurant’s letter grade from any street corner throughout the City using ABCEats NYC, a free iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch application that offers easy access to restaurant inspection grades and detailed inspection reports for each of the City's 24,000 restaurants. New Yorkers can find a restaurant’s latest inspection results by entering the name of a restaurant, searching by borough, or using their current location to find restaurants with “A,” “B,” “C,” or Grade Pending grades in close proximity. Global positioning system (GPS) technology on iPhones works with the City’s letter grading database to show letter grades of nearby restaurants. Information is updated daily.
To download the free ABCEats NYC application, those with Apple mobile phones or devices can search for ‘NYC Restaurant Grading’ in the iPhone App Store on their device. The app is available for iPhone and iPod users and will be available for Android users by this summer. For more information on the 18-month report on restaurant grading please search “Restaurant Grading at 18 Months” on NYC.gov.
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