There’s been much heated debate around the New York City Health Department’s recent requirement that restaurants display sanitary inspection scores, which are now being awarded in more consumer-friendly letter grades. Prior to this approach, curious diners in the Big Apple had to search online to find out details about a restaurant’s sanitary inspection records. Restaurateurs, understandably, have worried that with this new grading system, which is also used in Los Angeles, anything less than an A might put them out of business.
If you’re super-concerned about food safety (and not all of us are “super-concerned”), you may be inclined to avoid places that don’t receive near-perfect scores. I will advise you, though, that scores can be deceiving. I’ve taken food-safety courses as part of my culinary education, and restaurants can and do receive penalties for very minor infractions (a reach-in refrigerator being even a couple of degrees too warm or a bowl of broth being held at less than 140 degrees). Infractions are weighted, but even with this grading system, without online research, you won’t know if a lower grade is due to a major no-no (pests, for instance) or simply soup that’s not hot enough. Keep in mind, too, that trendy sous vide cooking methods are forbidden at New York City restaurants without a variance and a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point, or HAACP, plan (in part because sous vide techniques may involve slowly cooking food in the so-called temperature danger zone — more than 41 degrees and less than 135 degrees Fahrenheit — for long periods of time).
What do you think of letter grades for sanitary inspections at restaurants? Do you have a letter limit for where you’ll dine? Does the restaurant have to be displaying an A? Would you inquire about specific penalties if the restaurant didn’t earn an A? Weigh in here or join the discussion on Facebook.