By John Lynds
East Boston restaurants will have to begin bringing their “A” game when it comes to cleanliness as Boston’s Inspectional Services Department (ISD) begins implementing its new letter grading system for food establishments here and across the city.
At a community meeting last Tuesday night, ISD Commissioner William Christopher met with about 100 restaurant owners from the community to go over the new letter grading system.
Christopher said the Health Division of ISD that inspects all restaurants and mobile food trucks at least once a year will be out to check for compliance with health and sanitation codes.
The inspections will now be scored as a letter grade of A, B, or C similar to health code inspections in New York City.
“Restaurants do not have to post their first grade if they are unhappy with the results,” said Christopher. “Obviously if you receive an A you’ll want to post that grade in your window as soon as possible. However, if you receive a B or a C you don’t have to post that grade and have 30 days for a second inspection.”
After the second inspection, Christopher cautioned, restaurants will be required to post that letter grade whatever the result may be. There is the opportunity for restaurant owners to pay for an ”off hours” third inspection if the grade is still low.
“We want to reward good business and provide the public with the comfort of going and eating at an A graded establishment,” said Christopher about the change from a numerical point system to a letter grading system. “New York adopted this system six years ago and with 24,000 food establishments in the city they have reported that 85 to 90 percent are receiving A grades.”
Christopher said the new system also adds a little healthy competition to restaurants that dot Eastie.
“It helps restaurant owners and staff bring it up a level because you don’t want to be the only restaurant on the block with a C grade while everyone on the street has an A grade,” said Christopher. “We will work with restaurant owners to provide them with what our expectations are and how to run a good, clean business. We are not out to hurt anyone. This new system is no big deal if you run a good restaurant but if things need to be fixed we will guide you through that process.”
Christopher suggested that all food establishment staff members should take a ‘Serve Safe’ class and get certified in proper food service techniques.
Christopher said each restaurant begins an inspection with 100 points.
“We deduct points for each violation an inspector observes,” he said. “We assign point values based on the health risk a violation poses to the public. The inspector adds up the score when they complete the inspection. The higher the score, the better the restaurant performed on the inspection.”
A food borne critical violation, such as failing to keep food at safe temperatures, carries a higher risk of food borne illness and a penalty of 10 points. A critical violation, such as failing to properly tag and date food shipments, carries a penalty of seven points. A non-critical violation, such as failing to properly clean walls, ceilings, or other non-food-contact surfaces, carries a penalty of 2 points.
Each incidence of a violation results in a penalty. For example, if an inspector observes three separate items on a buffet not held at safe temperatures, a 10-point penalty will apply to each item. This would result in a 30-point deduction.
Christopher said a score of 94 to 100 points results in an A while a score of 81 to 93 points results in a B and a score of 80 or fewer points will result in a C grading.
Christopher added that the new system conforms to ISD’s standing practice of allowing a restaurant to pass an inspection with up to three non-critical violations. This also ensures that ISD reserve higher grades for restaurants with fewer critical violations.
“We inspect restaurants that earn an A at least once a year but we will inspect restaurants that earn a B at least once every six months and restaurants that earn a C at least once every three months,” he said.
ISD Commissioner William Christopher goes over the new restaurant inspection grading system at a community meeting with restaurant owners last week.
Mayoral Liaison Claudia Correa talks with restaurant owners.
Main Streets Director Max Gruner during the meeting.