Health Department agrees to reduce restaurant fines

A cook prepares food at a Manhattan restaurant

A cook prepares food at a Manhattan restaurant rated with a Health Department "A" grade. (March 7, 2011) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Restaurant owners won't have to break the bank if they don't make the grade.

The city's Health Department and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced Sunday an agreement to lower the fines for eateries' minor cleanliness and food violations.

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After the health department instituted its letter grade system, fines ranged anywhere from $200 to $2,000, which hindered a lot of owners who couldn't pay and make the required changes, Quinn said.

"We have to balance the needs of restaurant owners and operators with our obligation to keep restaurants clean and safe for the public. We've struck that balance with the fine reductions we are announcing today," Quinn, a mayoral candidate, said in a statement.

Under the new rules, 60 percent of fines will be set to a minimum $200. The average for many low-level violations was $348. Other fines will have reductions of 15 percent to 50 percent.

In addition, restaurant owners who receive violations that have fewer than 14 points during an initial inspection won't have to pay fines.

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"Even with reduced fines, the grading system will continue to encourage restaurant managers to prepare food safely," Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said in a statement.

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