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City health department weighs letter grades for food safety at restaurants

Every New York City restaurant may soon be required to advertise its food safety rating to potential customers — by posting a large A, B or C in its window.

City health department officials will vote in March on the letter grading system, through which the city’s 24,000 eateries would receive placards based on sanitary inspection results. The proposal opened to public comment Thursday.

Los Angeles has used a similar system for the past decade, and reports a rise in sanitation compliance and a drop in food-borne illnesses.

“The rating system provides a strong incentive” for restaurant owners to comply with health codes, said Elliott Marcus, an associate health commissioner. Eateries rated an A would be inspected annually, and those that get B or C grades for violations — including cooking food at the wrong temperatures — could appeal the results and would receive follow-up inspections under the most recent version of Marcus’ proposal.

The New York State Restaurant Association on Thursday approved of this and other revisions to the proposal, but remained philosophically opposed to the concept of letter grades.

“The difference between a B or a C or an A or a B is an arbitrary line,” said Robert Bookman, legislative counsel to the association. “There are only two grades that count: Pass and fail, and we are fully supportive in the industry of failing locations being closed.”

The city now uses a pass-fail system. Currently, about 30 percent of New York’s restaurants would earn an A, 40 percent would get Bs and 26 percent Cs, according to the health department.

New Yorker Xavier Brandon, 21, said the system would be beneficial for those who eat out, adding that he’d think twice before dining at an eatery with a low grade.

“No one wants to go somewhere that’s dirty or has roaches,” said the Brooklyn foodie.

It is not yet certain how soon the letter grading process would be implemented once the proposal is approved, said a health department spokeswoman.

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