Tonawanda News

Food

April 1, 2010

Health plan makes the grade

NORTH TONAWANDA — As one of the staffers here at the paper responsible for obtaining the health inspections, I can tell you that there are some scary offenses being committed at Niagara County eateries.

Everyone will forget to wear a hair restraint from time to time, but I see places that don’t have thermo-meters to test their food, don’t heat things properly, store bug spray right next to the pop dispenser and plenty of other culinary atrocities.

So when I heard that eateries in New York City will soon be required to post their health inspection grade in full public view, I was thrilled that such a system is in existence.

I was also hopeful that a similar program would come here.

The system, according to The Associated Press, calls for restaurants to display a letter grade (just like in school, A is the best). This method was designed, health officials said, to give the public an indication of how clean a place, as well as give food purveyors an incentive to clean up.

Health inspections are a matter of public record. But there are probably a lot of newspaper readers who don’t read them or can’t find them (page 5C in every Sunday's paper, if you’re interested), and far fewer people will actually drive to Mount View in Lockport to see the records for themselves.

So a system like this only makes sense. Critics of the New York City program say it will only serve to embarrass restaurateurs. Well, what’s so bad about that? Some of the best changes come about as a result of a person’s embarrassment, with the humiliation acting as a catalyst for change.

And trust me. I read these records. Some people need the incentive.

Besides, you should, as a proprietor, want to shoot for a high grade. Once it’s achieved, wouldn’t you want to boast about it?

New York City’s method was modeled after a similar set-up in Los Angeles, where the number of restaurants receiving the highest mark doubled from 40 percent to 80 percent after the letter grades were implemented. Not that I actually think there is a high number of places that are too unsanitary to patronize, but shouldn’t we strive to be the best possible and to hold others to the highest possible standards?

I would love to see Niagara and Erie counties implement a similar plan. Because, unless your job calls upon you to look up such things, you’re probably not going to have the time or desire to look up every restaurant on your own.

It’s not easy being clean, but it’s worth the time and effort to get tidy.

Contact Paul Lane at 693-1000, ext. 116, or paul.lane@tonawanda-news.com.

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