City Council Approves Restaurant Grading Changes

BY JOE MARVILLI
Staff Writer

Pressure may soon let up for eatery owners, as the City Council has passed legislation to reform the restaurant inspection system.

On Oct. 9, the City Council passed a bill that will allow restaurant owners and operators to request a reviewed, ungraded inspection for informative purposes from the Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene. If it becomes law, this will give restaurants a chance to fix any violations they may have without an immediate penalty.

The optional consultations would not result in a fine or notice of violation being issued for any problems that may come up during that review. The results of the educational inspection also cannot change an establishment’s inspection cycle. The DOH does reserve the right to require public health hazards to be fixed immediately.

Once the consultative inspection is done, the inspector will review his findings with the owner and offer advice on how to remedy violations. The DOH will be allowed to charge for this service.

The department will also develop a system for newly licensed food establishments, letting them schedule a consultative inspection before their first inspections for a nominal fee.

The legislation will also improve performance indicators for inspections, with hopes that they will increase oversight. The reforms are expected to reduce fines collected by about $10 million per year.

Last year, the Dept. of Health collected more than $50 million in fines throughout the City.

Queens councilmembers who sponsored the legislation were Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing), Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) and Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica).

The bill passed the City Council 46-0, with four councilmembers being excused.

The legislation has not yet been signed into law by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The Mayor has been reluctant in the past to make any changes to the restaurant inspection system.

“We put in grades in restaurants; it was very controversial. The restaurants, they get fined, don’t like it, they rush to elected officials [saying], ‘This is not fair.’ But it is also true [that] when we put in the grading of the restaurants, the cases of salmonella at our hospitals went down like a step function,” Bloomberg said at an awards event last week.
The Mayor’s Office did not respond to a request for comment about the reforms by press time.

Reach Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125, jmarvilli@queenstribune.com, or @Joey788.