by Marion Nestle
Aug 18 2010

NYC grades restaurants for food safety

I’ve been out of town so I missed the New York City Health Department’s grades for restaurant safety.  The agency has a website where you can look these up.

The first restaurant to get an A was happy about it, as you might expect.

All the others are worried that customers won’t go to places that get less than A grades.  But isn’t that the point?  The grades ought to act as an incentive for restaurants to clean up their safety acts.

Los Angeles has been doing this for ages.  It’s reassuring to see the A on the door.

My personal test for whether a restaurant is likely to be paying attention to safety: handwashing.  I am always reassured to see restaurant restrooms with (1) hot water, (2) soap, and (3) towels.  With those, it’s easier for employees to wash their hands so they are more likely to do so.

I’m always amazed at how many restaurants do not have all three.   Check out the restrooms and see for yourself?

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  • Anthro

    Some of my favorite hole-in-the-wall places sometimes have bathrooms that make me want to lose my lunch right there!

    I also get really tweaked when wait staff serve my glass or small dish by picking it up from the tray by the rim with all five fingers! I’m told they are trained not to do this, but it happens frequently.

    Lately I’ve been favoring restaurants that have a good view of the kitchen as well!

  • @Anthro- me too- but those places are not my faves anmore. I never go back to a place after being in a uni-sex bathroom with urine in the floor. I don’t order cold food either- especially not salads- probably comes from my working in the Salinas Valley in CA!

  • Ryan

    Well yes the washrooms can be disgusting but sometimes I wonder how clean are the actual kitchens sometimes….

  • Adrian

    The letter grades are a great idea and have gone a long way to cleaning up (literally!) many a restaurant in Los Angeles. The “bathroom test” has long been recommended by restaurant professionals, from chefs to plongeurs. It isn’t infallible but it is certain that a dirty, obviously neglected bathroom will never, ever mean that the kitchen is conversely clean. Never. (And yes, I used to work in restaurants, both front and back.)

  • Linda

    Shortly after I started reviewing restaurants for a mid-sized newspaper, a reader called to tell me what he considered the acid test: the condition of the restrooms. Hot water, soap, towels, just as you said. The low point came one day a few years later when a mall restaurant not only didn’t offer drinking water at the table (it was standard practice at the time), but had no running water in the restroom sinks. I left and called the municipal health department, which paid a visit and shut them down.