Roaches With a Side of Mice? Health Dept. Says 17% More Eateries Failed Inspection in 2011
These numbers could make you sick.
The tally of restaurants shuttered by city health inspectors jumped more than 17% last year to 1,504 - up from 1,282 in 2010, the Daily News has learned.
The closures are fueled by a new letter grading system, which has also led to skyrocketing restaurant fines.
The Health Department banked $42.3 million in fines last year, nearly $10 million more than in 2010.
Restaurant owners fume that the violations are often trumped up and are eating away at profits.
"I haven't heard of an equivalent reduction in the number of food-borne illnesses as a result of the new system," said Andrew Rigie, executive vice president of the New York State Restaurant Association.
The Bloomberg administration argues that the beefed-up inspections are compelling restaurants to clean up their act.
"The Department of Health will be looking at food-borne illnesses over time, but it is too early to know," agency spokesman John Kelly said.
Kelly noted that many of the shuttered restaurants reopened several days after fixing the cited problems.
Dirty floors and food that's been left out in the open, unprotected from mice and other rodents, topped the list of violations linked to a specific reason, records show.
There was a 35% increase in fines issued for mice discovered around food. The number of fines blamed on mice reached 18,384 during the fiscal year ending June 30, up from 13,657 in 2010.
Under the new system, eateries that don't ace their first tests get reinspected within about a month.
Restaurants can appeal their final score. If the owner appeals, a "Grade Pending" sign must be posted outside until an administrative judge reviews the case, generally in about four weeks.
The increased fines were expected, officials said.
"The agency actually anticipated an increase, because poorer-performing restaurants are now being inspected more quickly," Kelly said. "However, since the inception of the restaurant grading program, restaurants are improving, cycle to cycle."
That's in part due to help from high-priced consultants hired by many big-name restaurants.
"The Health Department has created an entire industry of consultants to help them pass their inspections," said Rigie.
"No one wants to see their customers get sick."
One Brooklyn restaurant owner said she has lost thousands of dollars appealing fines at administrative hearings. Fines range from $200 to $2,000.
"They are putting me out of business," said the owner, who did not want her name used. "How can I afford to pay $2,000 fines in this economy?"
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