Restaurants Learn Their ABC’s

The Kingsbridge McDonald's has a grade pending due to a leak in the basement.

By Jessica Schira

The Bronx Journal Staff Writer

Have you ever discovered an extra crunch that wasn’t supposed to be in a dish that you ordered? And then noticed it had legs?

New Yorkers have reported countless stomach-turning experiences in restaurants and food outlets.

Take Chelsea Boccagno whose chicken salad had a little extra protein at the High School of American Studies. “I was sifting through my salad and taking out pieces of chicken — which was a new habit so as to evenly disperse chicken throughout — and suddenly I saw a big, black dead bug. It wasn’t even a fly, but a tiny roach of some sort! I immediately started shaking out of grotesqueness and returned the salad.”

And it’s not just in food.  Three years ago, Nicole Ashley, a 21-year-old Bronx resident was working at a restaurant on the Grand Concourse near 151st street, when a customer called her over.  Floating inside the woman’s Scotch was a cockroach.

Now the city is implementing a new grading system so that consumers can be certain the restaurants they patronize are in good standing with the Department of Health. In July, the city made its ratings more visible to the public by issuing letter grades. Restaurants have to post the grade they receive — A, B or C — in the window.

According to the Health Department, letter grades are to give consumers access to information about sanitary conditions in restaurants, improve restaurants’ food preparation and reduce restaurant food-borne illness. The number of violation points a restaurant receives depends on how severely conditions impact public health.

Bacteria develop very quickly in food if not properly cooked or refrigerated, which can lead to food poisoning.  Four of the most common bacteria that can cause food poisoning are:

(Source: www.foodsafety.gov)

Inspectors give a restaurant an “A” grade when it has 13 points or fewer in an initial or re-inspection.  A “B” is between 14-27 points on a re-inspection and a C is 28 points or more on re-inspection.  If a restaurant has serious issues, the owners are given two weeks to improve.  During this time they may display a “Grade Pending” sign in their window.

One in four NYC restaurants requires re-inspection due to the number or severity of health code violations.  The re-inspection rate has fluctuated–roughly between 20 percent and 30 percent since 2005, the New York City Health Department and Mental Hygiene page reports.

The department may close a restaurant until it cleans up its act.   A New York Post article listed the 15 dirtiest restaurants from the five boroughs and said some are hiding their C grade, which could result in a penalty if not posted.  Only two were from the Bronx — The American Taste restaurant and New Hong Kong. Six restaurants out 15 were in Manhattan, three in Queens and two in Brooklyn.

Marina at Asian Taste Japanese restaurant in Brooklyn says the restaurant got four points off for having floor grease and dirty counters but still got an A grade.

My interest in the subject was sparked in September, after finding a lettuce bug in my chicken salad at Lehman’s Underground Lounge. Giuseppe Emanuele, a pizza chef at the lounge, maintained that it is very clean. “The bug is the same color as the lettuce and kind of big,” said Emanuele. “That may be why it did not come out when they drained the salad.”

The restaurant did receive an “A” grade. “This new regulation is good because the students now know that we are clean and that we are maintaining the standards,” said Emanuele.

Mr. Joel Yaneze, closing manager for Lehman Underground Lounge didn’t deny that he had heard about bug incidents.  “We take the suggestions from students seriously for future improvement,” he said.  More importantly, he said, the lounge has a new owner. Yaneze explained that they have changed food suppliers and that the managers are very strict with the cleanliness of the facility. 

Lehman Underground

While many restaurant owners find the new grading system onerous, they do have a way of keeping proprietors on their toes. “The Health Department was very strict during the process of inspection,” said Apu Sarker on the review of the Green Cafe, a restaurant on 60th in Manhattan. “She was checking everything — floors, counters, food temperature and whether there were any live animals in the cooking area.” Sarker says he is in favor of the new grading system because it makes him aware of what he and other coworkers need to do to improve their services, avoid food poisoning cases and gain the trust of their clients.

The Health Department inspections can be fairly rigorous and restaurants don’t always know when they are coming.  The Green Cafe did receive an “A”, but they still had to improve the temperature of food and make cleaning materials such as paper towels visible.  Mr. Sarker explained that the restaurant first received 14 violations and they were given 15 days for a re-inspection. 

Clearly, the Health Department believes in second chances. And, after seeing an “A” on the Lehman Underground wall, I decided to venture back too. I have not, however, eaten the Caesar’s salad with chicken.

One Response to Restaurants Learn Their ABC’s

  1. Eboni Faulkner January 10, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    Very insightful article. I think restaurants should be more accountable for their cleanliness. I always pay attention to the food that I purchase whether in restaurants or grocery stores. We are exposed to more than we know and it’s important that we check for ourselves what we ingest.


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