New York restaurants cleaner than ever

The number of restaurant-related gripes filed with the New York City Health Department jumped 18 percent — from 7,312 to 8,653 — between the 2014 and 2015 fiscal years. both years, the top complaint was rodents, insects or garbage overflowing or on the floor.

Other common grievances were about spoiled food (766), bare hands in contact with food (562) and broken toilet or lack of toilet paper (233). A half-dozen picky customers even complained about inadequate lighting.

Then there was the stomach-turning offense of a “foreign object” found in a food serving, which led 569 disgusted patrons to ask for inspectors to intervene.

In most cases, the “foreign object” was hair or a small piece of plastic.

Despite the higher volume of complaints, officials insisted restaurants are cleaner than ever as the city’s letter-grading system enters its sixth year.

On their initial inspection, 58 percent of restaurants earned an A in the most recent fiscal year — up from 37 percent in the first year of the grading system. Violations issued to restaurants also dropped — from nearly 213,000 in fiscal 2013 to a tick more than 196,000 in fiscal 2015.

A less punitive system ushered through by the City Council last year decreased fines by 18 percent — to $26.8 million — among the city’s more than 24,000 eateries.

“Over the last five years, restaurant letter grading has successfully motivated restaurants to practice better food safety. Restaurants are performing better on inspection and are cleaner than they have ever been,” said Health Department spokesman Levi Fishman.

Study says foodborne illnesses cost $77 billion a year

The first step in solving any problem is to recognize that a problem exists.


From rehab to the National Rifle Association, the phrase is thrown around like candy at Halloween, yet it doesn’t change or even influence behavior: those steps are harder.

The food safety world is inundated with reports recognizing the problem, but little changes.

A new report by the American Association for Justice (formerly known as Association of Trial Lawyers of America) concludes that the food industry’s drive for profits over safety has fueled a series of illness outbreaks and that the civil justice system remains consumers’ last and best line of defense.

“American consumers expect and deserve safe food. Yet, time and again, food producers have cut corners on food safety knowing full well that tainted products cause serious illness or even death. Cutting corners puts profits over people and that’s unforgivable when it comes to our food supply. Parents should never have to be worry about the safety of the peanut butter or ice cream they feed their children,” said Larry Tawwater, President of AAJ. “Because regulators are underfunded and understaffed, it is the civil justice system that provides the accountability necessary to safeguard our food supply.”

 Every year, 48 million people fall sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and at least 3,000 die from foodborne illness, costing the nation approximately $77 billion. Recalls in 2015 have surged compared to 2014 rates. In one of the most recent high-profile outbreaks, three people died after consuming Blue Bell ice cream contaminated with listeria. The company reportedly knew as early as 2013 that it had listeria in one of its plants. The outbreak is the most recent of the “ten worst outbreaks” chronicled in the new report.

problem.2“If your food supply begins with corporate run factory farms, it begins in a system that prioritizes corporate profits over public health,” Jessica Culpepper, food safety & health attorney for Public Justice, said on today’s call.

Are not small growers charging ridiculous amounts for boutique food with dubious health claims also profit-driven?

AAJ Researcher David Ratcliff said what’s so surprising is how often outbreaks of foodborne illnesses occur, adding, “We’re focused on so many other things when it comes to food – gluten, calories and GMOs (genetically modified organisms),” he said. “There’s a sense it won’t happen to us.”

How Hawaii’s restaurants have fared after one year of the placard rating system

It’s been about a year since the Hawaii Department of Health started issuing placards to restaurants as part of its food safety program.

hawaii-restaurant-placardyellow*304xx1035-1553-83-0The color coded system gives everyone a clear look at just how safe a restaurant is.

A green card means it passed inspection. A yellow card means two or more major violations and a follow-up inspection is needed. And red means the place is shut down because of health risks.

One of the first restaurants to get a green placard was Scratch Kitchen & Bake Shop in Chinatown.

“I feel the placard system makes restaurants feel accountable for their sanitation, their health issues, their kitchen, how they manage their food,” said Brian Chan, Scratch Kitchen & Bake Shop owner.

In the first year of the program, July 2014 – July 2015, health inspectors handed out 8,546 placards, amounting to about 84% of all food establishments in the state.

Of those placards given out, 6,744 received green ones, 1,802 received yellow, and no one got a red placard.

KHON2 asked health officials what the response has been from restaurants that received yellow placards.

“They understand what we’re doing. Before we started to roll out this program, we made a point to visit every single one of our 10,000 establishments to explain at length exactly what our inspectors would be looking for. So I think it’s not really much of a shock to them. They understand the idea to get the green placard is rapid corrections of the violations,” replied Department of Health Sanitation Branch manager Peter Oshiro.


Arizona diners can look up restaurant inspections on smart phones

Maricopa County Environmental Services has just rolled out a new mobile restaurant ratings tool that can be accessed from any smartphone.

rest.inspection.smartphoneDivision manager Andrew Linton said the restaurant tool allows anyone, anywhere to look up specific restaurant inspection reports for any of the 22,000 food service establishments across the Maricopa County.

“If you are out on the go and decide to eat at a restaurant that you are not familiar with,  you see how they do on their inspections,” said Linton. “This is a really easy way to get an idea of how they are doing.”

The restaurant ratings tool is different from your basic phone app, said Linton.

To access it, all users have to do is go to the county’s website at

Users can then do a search of a specific restaurant or look up all restaurants within a one-mile radius of their location.

Users will see a map that they can then use to look up an individual restaurant, and see its latest health inspection report.

According to Linton, another benefit of the restaurant ratings tool is that if diners have a bad experience going out to eat, they can file a complaint right from their smart phone.

‘We can do better’ More transparency for LA restaurant grading

For more than a decade, NBC4 I-Team has been investigating Los Angeles County’s restaurant grading system.

Big changes were recommended for the food safety program Tuesday by the Interim Director of L.A. County’s Public Health Department, many of them addressing concerns that the I-Team investigations raised.

In May, an investigation revealed how the public is rarely told about foodborne illness outbreaks. In fact, more about those outbreaks could be gleaned from websites like Yelp and Trip Advisor than from county health officials.

When questioned about the lack of transparency back in May, Angelo Bellomo, who supervises the county’s food safety program, said there were ways that officials could improve the system.

“We could be doing a better job in many areas,” he said.

The proposed changes to the county’s restaurant grading system would address many of the existing shortcomings that have been the focus of NBC4 reports over the years, including:

-Preventing a restaurant from receiving an “A” grade if they receive two major violations during an inspection.

-The online disclosure of all restaurant closures and those restaurants believed to be associated with a foodborne illness.

-Revoking more restaurant permits for businesses with “chronic unsafe practices.”

The changes to the food facility grading system were included in a memo sent to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and obtained by the I-Team.

Public Health plans on implementing these changes immediately and say they will work with the Board of Supervisors if any laws needed to be revised.

QR codes for restaurant inspection disclosure in Sudbury

My sister, who lives in Sudbury (that’s in Canada), may be pleased to know the Sudbury and District Health Unit has asked restaurants to put new decals in their window. The decals include a code people can scan with their cell phone to access health inspection results.

UnknownThe Food Safety manager with the health unit said making restaurant cleanliness information easily accessible is important.

“[It gives] the consumer the information at hand to make the best decision possible [about] whether they choose to eat at that place or not,” Cynthia Peacock-Rocca said.

The decal program is voluntary for restaurants. She noted creating a mandatory program would have required legislative changes in all the municipalities the health unit serves.      

The results of inspection reports have been available on the health unit website since 2009.

Make disclosure mandatory: Brisbane issues 445 infringements to businesses for breaching food safety standards and collects more than 500K in fines

Toronto, Los Angeles and New York have all figured out how to make restaurant inspection disclosure mandatory.

restaurant_food_crap_garbage_10It’s voluntary in Australia.

The council has revealed its worst offenders are among Brisbane’s most popular eateries including Fortitude Valley’s Golden Palace Chinese Restaurant, Subway in Chermside Westfield and Ahmet’s Turkish Restaurant in South Bank.

Lord Mayor Graham Quirk said the council had raked in more than $500,000 in fines from businesses breaching standards and had successfully prosecuted 27 cases.

Cr Quirk said in the past financial year it had cancelled food licences on 18 occasions and issued 48 immediate suspensions to businesses in breach of food safety standards as well as 620 improvement notices.

“Council also issued 445 fines to businesses during the year and finalised prosecution of 27 successful cases of Food Act 2006 breaches with fines totalling $579,700, for incidents,” he said.

Cr Quirk said its Eat Safe program, which was implemented in 2010, aimed to boost health and safety standards in licensed food businesses including both mobile food vendors to restaurants.

Too cool for disclosure? Orange County votes against restaurant grades but vote for more inspections, higher fees

Inspections and disclosure do not make safe restaurants.

Restaurants make safe restaurants.

Orange-County-LogoInspection and disclosure are minimal tools to hold folks accountable.

The bare minimum.

So comparing one against the other seems kinda, dumb.

Orange County will remain the only Southern California county not using letter grades for restaurant health inspections after the Board of Supervisors voted against them Tuesday.

But local restaurants will be inspected more often following the board’s approval of fee increases for owners and operators to pay for more inspectors, despite twice rejecting the hikes last year.

Under the new rules, county health officials will inspect restaurants at least three times a year. Currently, inspectors are able to visit local restaurants, on average, 1.6 times a year. Federal guidelines suggest most restaurants should be inspected no fewer than three times a year.

“It’s really important to have these restaurants inspected on a regular basis,” said Supervisor Lisa Bartlett.

Supervisors voted 4-1 against putting letter grades on restaurant windows, a method of alerting potential customers about the outcome of health inspections used in most of the region.

“It’s not a letter grade … that makes the restaurant safe. It’s the quality and frequency of the inspections,” Jim Miller, president of the Dana Point Harbor Merchants Association – which includes 14 restaurants in Dana Point Harbor – told the supervisors.

#GastroBusters: Toronto’s food poisioning reporting tool that restaurants hate

The same industry that hated the introduction of DineSafe in 2001 now hates GastroBusters, a Toronto Public Health initiative to combat food poisoning, that is drawing the ire of chefs and restaurateurs across the city.

Dan-Akroyd-Says-No-Bill-Murray-Ghostbusters-31The online GastroBusters service allows diners to report restaurants they believe gave them food poisoning without identifying themselves. It’s that anonymity that restaurant owners don’t like.

“Why don’t you want to be tracked?” asked Shirin Chalabiani, part owner of Bolt Fresh Bar. “Don’t you want that person to come back to you and maybe ask you questions and get to know why you got food poisoning and what did you eat or like more details?”

Chalabiani said diner complaints can give a restaurant a bad name, often for no reason.

“We need to know about all cases so that we can identify if there’s clusters or outbreaks and then do something to prevent them,” said Dr. Barbara Yaffe, director of communicable disease control at the health agency.

Restaurant organizations warn about false claims, excess cost

Two experts who work in the restaurant field say the program should be done away with because it’s redundant.

images“GastroBusters is unnecessary cost to taxpayers,” says Donna Dooher, the president of Restaurants Canada, an association representing 30,000 restaurants and food service businesses across the country.

Dooher said the city’s restaurant sanitary rating system, DineSafe, is enough to safeguard diners against food poisoning.

James Rilett, vice president of the Ontario unit of Restaurants Canada, argued that food poising incidents are already tracked.

“If a doctor has a legitimate case of food born illness, they open an investigation they call Toronto Health and it’s tracked,” said Rilett. “I don’t see how anonymity helps that system at all.”

He adds a program like this opens the door to false claims.


86 sickened: Church-exempt day care in Alabama avoids oversight

To coach children in Australia, you need a Blue Card.

It’s some basic check to make sure you don’t have a history of …

blues-brothers-1989-movie-still-dan-aykroyd-john-belushi-01I have a Blue Card.

I played hockey yesterday morning – I’m still sore – and was chatting with one of the league organizers while Amy came to pick me up (love her).

The organizer had been to a two-day course about Blue Card requirements for organizations, and liability, and I noted I was more concerned that the people preparing toasties – grilled cheese – in the common area at the arena on Sundays required no training in anything food safety.

Guess Queensland is sorta like Alabama that way.

As reported by the Montgomery Advertiser, it was a Tuesday afternoon, and 86 children became sick from staph bacteria at two Sunny Side Day Care Center locations. Quickly, questions arose about the day care center operations, about whether it was licensed, about why there were 323 children at two of the four locations, about what the child/adult ratio was, and whether there were any state guidelines to prevent what had happened.

Alabama is one of about a dozen states that have “church-exempt” day care centers. Sunny Side is one of them.

The centers were not licensed, and do not have to abide by any minimum state standards. They have to cooperate with the fire and health departments, but little or no oversight is mandated. Children and parents may visit unlicensed centers, but no state employees or officials do, said Calvin Moore, director of the child care division with the state department of human resources.

cowgirls.bluesThe Montgomery Advertiser investigated the history of Sunny Side Day Care Center, and it was found that Sunny Side did not meet fire safety standards, and while the center received a 98 rating on a May food inspection, they were not consistent in their food reports.

Moore said the oversight is very different for licensed day care centers than for “church-exempt” centers.

“The main difference is that there aren’t any standards for a church-exempt program,” he said.

“It’s kind of tough to call what they’re required to do as ‘standards.’ They don’t amount to minimum standards and, inherently, that’s the main problem. My office is in charge of licensure, and we can’t monitor church-exempt programs in any way. I don’t know if they are visited by the state level.”

To become “church-exempt,” day care centers have to send affidavits for each child attending the center, Moore said. But they only do that annually. They also are required in the affidavits to state that the children who are enrolled there are updated in their immunizations. But that is a self-reporting process, Moore said.

“We can only verify that they have said they have done those things,” he said. “As long as they say the day care center is part of an intricate part of the church’s ministry, then we ‘OK’ that. As long as they meet that requirement, we issue that exemption.”

Sunny Side met those standards.

The report of staph bacteria raises concerns about adherence to policies set in place for the safety and care of young children.

However, by claiming exemption under United Family Service Outreach, a religious affiliation, Sunny Side does not have to follow the rules set in place by the state’s DHR, as state-licensed day cares do.

Sunny Side was contacted, but they did not provide any comment on the findings.