Most Diner Violations Unrelated to Food: Report

NEW YORK -

Restaurants who live and die by the new city regulation that places a prominent “A,” “B” or “C” on their window, based on how many points they rack up in inspection are correct that most of the violations are not even food-related, a report from the Health Department finds.

About two-thirds of fines issued over the past two fiscal years are for poor equipment maintenance or unrelated to food safety, according to a New York Post article on the city’s report, something which restaurant owners complain unfairly tags their eatery with an unclean label.

In total, 273,999 fines were issued in 2012 and 198,779 given this fiscal year. Of those, only about 14 percent were for categories including mice sightings and dirty or greasy food-contact surfaces.

The largest number of fines, about 30 percent, are categorized as “all others,” which two leading restaurant advocates say are almost entirely unrelated to food.

“Many of them are non-food related — dimly lit light bulbs, not having the proper documentation to show that a product has no trans fats in it,” said Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, which represents nearly 1,000 eateries. “I don’t think many people would consider that directly related to food.”

One bakery owner in Boro Park told Hamodia that a city-mandated shutdown of his shop for several days last year was caused by paper towels on the floor.

“Is that fair?” said the baker, who asked not to be identified. He was able to get the violation removed after contacting Councilman David Greenfield.

Other common fines unrelated to food include bathrooms running out of paper, cracked tiles, dirty aprons — even scratched cutting boards, Rigie said.

“You’ll see a violation because a cutting board has a few scratches in it versus a deep gouge where bacteria would grow. If you use a cutting board, it’s going to get scratches in it!”

But the city insists that every violation issued is meant to protect customers. An official told the Post that its grades have led to cleaner kitchens and a drop in salmonella rates.

Robert Bookman, a lawyer for the alliance, claimed that the city just wants to generate revenue for its coffers.

He and Rigie want the City Council to pass legislation addressing restaurant fines. In addition, city agencies, including Health, are currently studying which violations could be downgraded to verbal warnings.