Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Is The New Restaurant Grading System Changing The Way We Eat?

Going out to restaurants never goes out of style, and while the restaurant business grows, so do the germs and bacteria that can be found in them. According to the article, "A Large Salmonellosis Outbreak Associated With a Frequently Penalized Restaurant" S.P. Luby, J.L. Jones and J.M. Horan discuss a restaurant in Greenville, South Carolina that managed to get an estimated 824 customers sick in a five-month period in 1990, due to the unsanitary conditions of the restaurant's kitchen. Before the Health Department created the public restaurant rating system, consumers had to either go online, or contact the Health Department to learn about the cleanliness of restaurants. Bacteria such as salmonella, Escherichia coli, and cold and flu strains have been found on everything from utensils to the soda dispenser machines, and has been reported on many news broadcasts.

In the NYC.GOV report, titled, "Restaurant Grading in New York City at 18 months", the New York Department of Health estimates that "more than 6,000 New Yorkers are hospitalized, and 20,000 visit emergency rooms each year because of food borne illnesses". Fortunately, the new grading system allows for restaurants to be checked more often than they used to be. The grading system works as a points system. The more points you have, the worse your grade. Even if a restaurant's inspection points fall into the A grade (0-13 points) inspectors will still re-inspect a month later and issue a grade based on the second inspection. It seems that getting a grade of an A is not easy, but what about the restaurants that have scored a B or a C? Many times I have passed by restaurants in Manhattan, and seen small food shops with C grades, that have lines of customers out the door, and the popularity of food carts is on the rise with people on the go. I have friends that are avid food cart customers, boasting about which food carts have made them sick, and which haven't.

Food carts vendors must obtain Health Department permits, but they are not as strict as restaurant regulations. Are people becoming desensitized to food borne illnesses, or are people willing to sacrifice a little sickness for a tasty cheap meal?

Though the universal grading system allows for customers to know what they are getting into before they sit down, it will be a long time before the "C" grades disappear. The NYC.GOV report also states that there is evidence of mice in 22% of all of New York City restaurants, and food stored in harmful food temperatures in 27% of restaurants. It's good to be watchful of the places where you eat. Many times I have been told that a restaurant bathroom is the best representation of the kitchen, so check the cleanliness of the bathroom, or else you might be spending a lot of time in your own.

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