Current System Leaves Owners In 'Absolute Panic,' Restaurateur Says

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Reform is on the menu for the controversial New York City restaurant inspection system.

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As CBS 2’s Tony Aiello reported Monday, owners hope they will not be forking over so much dough in fines. They said the current health inspection system leaves them walking on proverbial eggshells.

“It’s absolute panic,” said Leonard de Knegt of Jerry’s Café. “One dead strawberry in a box coming from a vendor — one dead strawberry — can cost you $300.”

Restaurant owners said the city’s beefed up inspections, as they are currently administered, are arbitrarily tough. They said they are fed up with fines.

In the three years since the city cooked up its letter grade system, the amount of fines paid by restaurants has skyrocketed — from about $30 million a year to $50 million.

“Food safety is no longer the focus,” said City Councilman David G. Greenfield (D-44th.) “The focus, really, is about making a quick buck.”

City Councilmembers said the system is choking small business owners, and ripe for reform.

They have crafted a menu of proposed changes, including:

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• Helping restaurants by reducing fines 15 percent

• Eliminating fines for restaurants that successfully appeal a bad inspection and win an A grade

• Establishing an office in the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to hear complaints from the industry

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said it is all about striking a balance, “between protecting the health and safety of New Yorkers and easing the unfair burden on all of the restaurants out there.”

The letter grade system is a signature accomplishment of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration, which said food safety has improved and the number of salmonella cases has dropped.

But given complaints about fines busting restaurant budgets, the mayor’s office has signaled it is open to reforms.

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