By John Lynds
Boston’s Inspectional Services Department (ISD) Commissioner William Christopher said East Boston restaurants are bringing their “A” game under ISD’s new letter grading system for food establishments in East Boston and others across the city.
Christopher reported to the East Boston Times that so far 61 Eastie locations have been inspected and ISD has handed out 58 letter A grades, two letter B grades and only one letter C grade.
“In East Boston and across the city it has been going very well,” said Christopher. “The letter grades in East Boston just reaffirm that Eastie has some of the best restaurants in the city. Those who received an A or a B grade that are posting those grades in the windows has been real economic stimulation for the restaurants and the neighborhood.”
The Health Division of ISD that inspects all restaurants and mobile food trucks at least once a year have been out to check for compliance with health and sanitation codes. Beginning this year, the inspections begun to score establishments 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. Obviously the 58 restaurants in Eastie who received an A have been proudly displaying the grade in their windows. However, Christopher said those businesses who receive a B or a C 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 have been all over the map in East Boston,” said Christopher. “We didn’t change or increase the workload for owners to be in compliance, we simply changed the way we grade and that grade needs to be posted. Restaurant owners can expect the same high standard inspection they received in the past.”
Several years ago, New York City adopted this system and with 24,000 food establishments in the city they have reported that 85 to 90 percent are receiving A grades.
“New York has seen a marked improvement in their economy with so many restaurants receiving high grades,” said Christopher. “New York has also seen a dramatic drop in the actual number of violations because more and more owners and employees are now ‘self inspecting’.”
ISD deducts points for each violation an inspector observes. The inspector then assigns 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 two 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 is 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 don’t treat any business different no matter how popular they may be,” said Christopher. “Everyone is subjected to the same inspection. With that said, my motto has always been ‘compliance through assistance’. We are not here to hurt businesses and we want every restaurant to be an “A” rated establishment. We will work with you the get to a better place that is better for everyone and that is a clean, healthy environment.”
Christopher did praise Eastie’s restaurant owners. With many establishments here being locally owner mom and pop operations, Christopher said he wasn’t really surprised so many Eastie places received an “A”.
“There are so many wonderful family restaurants here,” he said. “There are people from the community serving the people of the community so there is a certain level of pride in that. East Boston is a very important part of our city and people reinvesting and taking ownership in their community serves as a real economic stimulus here.”