[Pigging by Wilfrid: January 25, 2010]
So what the egg flip was all that about? According to Grub Street, the city is "patting itself on the back for its letter-grading system today." Everything is "a-okay" with no less than 57% of restaurants awarded grades achieving the highest ranking - A. 31% received a B, the remaining 12% a C. Well, whoopeedoo, it looks like almost 90% of inspected premises are clean - or clean enough.
Now this pretty much backs up an observation I made as far back as January '09 when this costly project was announced. Health Czar Frieden said back then: "Every day more than a thousand people get sick from eating in restaurants." I don't know where that figure came from - given the difficulty of tracing the typical symptoms to one specific cause, I am convinced it's highly speculative - but of course, even if it was accurate, it would demonstrate what a tiny proportion of the population comes to any harm when eating out. There are, after all, over 25,000 restaurants in the city, and a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation will tell you what a vanishingly small percentage of their traffic Dr Frieden's 1,000 is likely to be.
So. Based, on the Health Department's own estimate, it seemed to me we just did not have a toxic restaurant problem. Illness traceable to dining out, a very rare thing. Looks like we just spent two years - and who knows how much money? Does anyone care? - confirming that.
A-okay. Ah, but what about those joints which didn't make the grade. What about the C class? Mayor Bloomberg surely had a point two years ago when he said: "It will give a major incentive to restaurants to improve their cleanliness, because if they don't, the grade will be there for everyone to see and they will lose business."
Oh, wait, that statement is no longer operative. Why? Because, what you do if you get a C grade is appeal and await reinspection (you can do the same if you get a B and you're fussy). Do you post your existing grade in the meantime? No, you post "Grade Pending" which might alert an informed passerby to the possibility of a problem, but is hardly explicit. It's estimated that around 90% of restaurants awarded C grades first time around have appealed them. How long will it take to sort this out? Three months, five months, a while.
No wonder, walking around and looking in restaurant windows as I do, you see A grades everywhere, the occasional B and never a C.
The likely outcome, sometime toward the end of this year? The number of restaurants currently graded C will shrink as a natural outcome of the re-inspection process. This will provide further support for the thesis that there was no big problem in the first place. And about 1,000 people a day will still say they got sick eating pizza last night, and we still won't know whether they really got sick because their kitchen sink is filthy or they have the flu.
But thanks for spending our money, guys.