The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
Contact: Phone: 202-332-9110

Start Spreading the News! New York City Passes Food Safety Letter Grades for Restaurants

CSPI Urges Other Jurisdictions to Do the Same


New York City's trailblazing Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
voted yesterday to require the city's restaurants to post letter grades
reflecting the establishment's cleanliness. That move was applauded
today by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest,
which has been calling on cities and state legislatures to adopt such
measures. Letter grades have been used in Los Angeles County
restaurants for the past 11 years, and that popular measure is credited
with reducing the number of hospitalizations due to foodborne illness

A 2008 CSPI review
of 539 restaurant inspections in 20 cities found that two-thirds of
restaurants had troubling critical food safety violations. That report,
Dirty Dining,
contained harrowing accounts of chicken salad stored at a
bacteria-friendly 50 degrees, mouse droppings in ice machines, and
roaches scampering across cutting boards. CSPI found that many of those
inspection reports were hard for the public to obtain; CSPI
investigators had to pry reports from some secretive health departments
with formal requests made under the Freedom of Information Act.

"When some said it was impossible to get artificial
trans fat out of restaurant food, New York City proved them wrong,"
said CSPI food safety
attorney Sarah Klein. "When others said that calorie counts on menus
were impractical, New York City made it look easy. L.A. was the first
to put food safety letter grades in restaurant windows. But with 24,000
restaurants representing virtually every cuisine on Earth, New York City can show that if you can make it happen there, you can make it happen anywhere."

will represent CSPI at the Conference on Food Protection in Providence,
RI, next month. That conference brings together food industry
stakeholders, consumer groups, and food-safety officials from state,
local, and federal agencies, and makes recommendations to the Food and
Drug Administration on updating its model food code. That code forms
the scientifically sound technical and legal basis for regulating
retail food sales, and is then typically adopted by state and local
agencies. CSPI wants it to include letter grades for restaurants.

"Of course, we also want to prevent food from being
contaminated before it even enters a restaurant, which is why Congress
needs to give the FDA the authority and resources it needs to do that
job," Klein said. The Senate is expected have a vote on final passage
of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act this spring.

Since 1971, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has been a strong advocate for nutrition and health, food safety, alcohol policy, and sound science.