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Loophole lets unhealthy restaurants post passing letter grades

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amny Photo Credit: Ray’s Pizza at 77 Lexington Ave. failed its health inspection after receiving an A/RJ Mickelson

For some city restaurants, “A” stands for “fail.”

Scores of restaurants that have failed their most recent inspections this month were allowed to keep the “A” grade posters in their windows because of a loophole in the inspection process, according to an amNewYork analysis of health department’s records.

In the first three weeks of July, at least 116 restaurants that had previously earned an “A” racked up between 28 and 81 violation points during an inspection. (More than 27 points is considered failing and normally earns a “C.” Though, most failing restaurants are not ordered to close.)

They include fast-food chains, high-end eateries, tourist hotspots and local favorites.

The health department said there’s nothing wrong with eateries keeping the “A” grades. Although about 3,400 restaurants still haven’t been inspected to receive a letter grade under the year-old system, these restaurants — which already have a grade — are on their second round of inspections because they failed a prior check.

“Restaurants have two chances,” health department spokeswoman Susan Craig said. “The first inspection is not a graded inspection ... All initial inspections are non-graded inspections unless you get an ‘A,’ ” meaning restaurants would need to fail two inspections before their grade is lowered. Second inspections often take several weeks. “It’s due process,” Craig added. “This is what the restaurant industry is asking for.”

“If you failed an inspection and you have serious health violations, then you shouldn’t be putting up an A,” said state Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx), who pushed for the letter-grade system. “They should do away with the one free ride.”

Diners said they were appalled to hear that restaurants they frequent had failed their most recent inspection.

“I wouldn’t think Max Brenner, of all places,” said NYU student Stephen Cervantes, standing outside the Union Square shop that specializes in chocolate dishes, after hearing the eatery earned a whopping 44 violation points for live roaches and evidence of mice and flies on a July 13 inspection — but sill had an “A” hanging in its window.

"Now I can’t take the ‘A’ seriously,” Cervantes, 20, added. A Max Brenner manager declined to comment.

Other restaurant operators said the inspection process wasn’t fair.

Tony Krasniqi, manager of a Ray’s Pizza on 77 Lexington Ave. off East 26th Street, said his store was “nice and clean” despite the 49 violation points the shop earned on July 15 for mice, flies and not protecting food from potential contamination.

Even though Krasniqi thinks his restaurant is sanitary, he’s not confident he’ll get an “A” on his next inspection. “They’ll just find something else to complain about,” he said.

Andrew Rigie of the New York State Restaurant Association also criticized the letter-grade system.

“We need to move away from a punitive and shameful system to one that supports local restaurants and public safety,” he added. “A more fair letter-grade system would be ‘A’ or ‘F’ — you pass or you fail.”

(with Christine DiStasio)


How many restos made the grade?

Health inspections of restaurants have gotten tougher since the letter-grade system began on July 27, 2010  — kind of.

Nearly twice as many eateries have been closed in the last year compared to the year before, and the average number of violation points given has slightly increased, according to an amNewYork analysis.

Under the system, eateries get an “A” for under 14 points, a “B” for 14 to 27, and a failing “C” grade for more than 27.  But while approximately 40 percent of restaurants got fewer than 14 points on inspection, nearly 70 percent eventually got “A’s.” That’s because those that don’t get an “A” the first time are checked more often, health department spokeswoman Susan Craig said, giving them another chance to boost their grades. She added that restaurants are inspected twice before getting a grade, unless they get an “A” on their first check.

Andrew Rigie of the New York State Restaurant Association says the system is flawed.

“There’s more than a thousand points that you can accrue,  but it takes only 14 points to get a ‘B,’ ” Rigie said, adding that even with 28 points, a restaurant is still scoring 96 percent. “That earned an ‘A-plus’ when I went to school.”

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