Today marks an important step forward for the NYC restaurant industry as Speaker Mark-Viverito and the DOHMH announced new proposed rules for the restaurant inspection process that will reduce letter-grade fines by an additional 25%, which returns fine collection to pre-letter grade (2010) levels.
Proposed rule changes to the letter-grading and inspection system include:
Standardized, fixed fine rates for each violation;
Implementation of a consultative, ungraded inspection program by DOHMH inspectors. This will foster education and enable restaurants to fix violations in a non-punitive environment;
Limitation on fines for restaurants whose scores become less than 14 points after adjudication on its initial inspection. A restaurant will not have to pay any fines for the remaining sanitary violations on that inspection;
No violations for a structural problem if prior inspections failed to notice it and conditions have not been changed, though the restaurant will still be required to fix it.
The Council also announced its support for the establishment of a new position of ombudsperson in the Office of Food Safety to respond to restaurant complaints and the creation of the Department’s new food safety advisory committee (FSAC), which will include nutritionists, food safety experts, and representatives from the restaurant industry. This committee will provide an ongoing review of the letter grading program.
"The NYS Restaurant Association thanks Speaker Mark-Viverito and the DOHMH for further developing systemic and substantial reforms to the letter-grade fine system that will protect the public while also protecting restaurants from unnecessary and excessive fines. The Association has advocated for the DOHMH to focus on an education first and not fine first mentality. Restaurants all want to succeed and strive to put out the best and safest food; the DOHMH should be viewed as a partner and not an enemy in that effort which the Council has recognized. These new rules will go a long way towards making the letter-grade system fairer for the restaurant industry and the Council and the DOHMH should be commended for their response to the Association’s and restaurant industry’s concerns,” said Melissa Autilio Fleischut, President & CEO of the NYS Restaurant Association.
The continued trend of changing the DOHMH to an educate-first versus a fine-first mentality has been positively received by the industry. “The department of health is tasked with maintaining public health, which all of us support and demand. Clearly the process at times has been adversarial and extremely subjective, due to a code that was written with too much room for interpretation. It is therefore of great importance for organizations such as the New York State Restaurant Association, to speak on behalf of all of us, in helping streamline the process, maintain public health, while at the same time creating a process that is business friendly, with no room for interpretation or subjective fining. The improvements announced today, are a great example of how government and business can collaborate for the greater good of all,” commented Philippe Massoud, Owner and Executive Chef of ilili.
The New York State Restaurant Association has been advocating for fine reform and inspection guidance since the implementation of Letter Grade system in 2010 and spearheaded the Council’s oversight hearings held in March 2012. The Association is grateful that the City Council and the DOHMH have listened to the concerns of the industry and have worked to modify the inspection process.
The Association will continue to keep you in-the-know on any new developments as well as provide important education tools on this topic. With any questions, please contact the NYC Office at 212.398.9160 or info@NYSRA.net.