5.03.2006

If you never want to eat in New York City again...

Check out your favorite restaurants on this website.

I don't know if the kosher* ones are worse than the others. (The word on the street is generally that kosher restaurants are worse than non-kosher restaurants in almost every way, including cleanliness and service, since they have a more captive audience.) I checked out a few and it didn't look like they necessarily were, but this is not a scientific study by any means. The kosher places I checked out ranged from 2, a very good score, to 34, which is a bad score. It goes from 1 up to 175, but a 28 or above requires a compliance inspection.

What was definitely true was that the cheaper the restaurant was, the higher (= worse) its score. ("Definitely true" in only the way that a non-scientific study can be.) Regardless of kashrut, the pizza places I checked out ranged from 0 to 88, with many hovering in the teens and 20s, but a not-insubstantial number in the 30s and higher. Restaurants with the word "steak" in their names, which might be assumed to be pricier, ranged from 0 to 37, but only two places were above 27, which is the cutoff for what is considered acceptable by the New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene. Restaurants with the word "bistro" in their names, also probably pricier, ranged from 0 to 51, but, again, only two scores were above 27.

I felt differently about different violations. Violations at some of the restaurants I eat at include (warning--not all items below are safe for the faint of heart):
  1. Evidence of mice or live mice present in facility's food and/or non-food areas.
  2. Facility not vermin proof. Harborage or conditions conducive to vermin exist.
  3. Sanitized equipment or utensil, including in-use food dispensing utensil, improperly used or stored.
  4. "Choking first aid" poster not posted. "Alcohol and Pregnancy" warning sign not posted. "Wash hands" sign not posted at hand wash facility. Resuscitation equipment: exhaled air resuscitation masks (adult & pediatric), latex gloves, sign not posted. Inspection report sign not posted.
  5. Food Protection Certificate not held by supervisor of food operations.
  6. Non-food contact surface improperly constructed. Unacceptable material used. Non-food contact surface or equipment improperly maintained.
  7. Sanitized equipment or utensil, including in-use food dispensing utensil, improperly used or stored.
#4 and even #5 don't bother me so much in my, um, gut, although I appreciate the need for such laws and wish to see them obeyed. As for the others--yuck! On the other hand, I haven't gotten sick yet, and a little bacteria never hurt anyone with a healthy immune system (which, thank God, I have, bli ayin hara [not to attract the evil eye], ptooey ptooey).

For the sake of, again, non-scientific comparison, here are some violations at restaurants I don't eat at (because they are not kosher):
  1. Thawing procedures improper.
  2. Wiping cloths dirty or not stored in sanitizing solution.
  3. Evidence of flying insects or live flying insects present in facility's food and/or non-food areas.
  4. Hot food not held at or above 140°F.
Oh, right, that makes me feel better. (I have seen a fly in the glass pastry case at Starbucks several times. Every time I see one, I alert the cashier who usually gets it out of the case. Once the person didn't do anything about it, which I thought was probably not a smart thing to do from a customer service perspective. I also once saw a cute little mouse at an independent coffee shop in Cambridge, and I quietly told the barista. They were glad to receive the information and said that they would take care of it.)

Why do I care? Well, there is the gross-out factor, of course. You know, interest in the sordid underbelly of the restaurant business, which is probably also why people read books like Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.

However, I also find this fascinating only in that it's something that I've never really thought about before (and it was probably better that way). It makes me wonder, though--what else is a part of my regular life here in New York that I never think about?

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* Read: "hechshered" (or "hekhshered") if that suits you better. I am using them synonymously in this post, although I realize that not everyone does.

2 comments:

BZ said...

I'm one of the biggest sticklers around about "kosher" vs "hechshered", but I don't have a problem with saying "kosher restaurant" or "non-kosher restaurant" (though I consider some of the food at non-kosher restaurants to be kosher).

To use a recent example at which we were both present, I'm not cool with saying "These donuts are not kosher" (assuming they're not fried in lard), but I'd be cool with "These donuts are from a non-kosher restaurant" (hey, the place undeniably sells cheeseburgers) or "This was cooked in a non-kosher kitchen".

David said...

the Jewish approach to food safety seems to be "God protects His faithful." This I derive from the incidence of expired food, etc at the markets; from the number of people who will walk food to shul and then to other people's houses (so it's been at room temperature for, oh I don't know, 3 hours? 4?); from the general lackadasical nature of the mashgihim (some actually work hard - your sister was one of those - but I've never heard of a mashgiah getting food *safety* training as opposed to kashrut training)

Two words should strike terror into the heart of any kosher consumer: "kosher sushi." The sushi chefs know what they're doing, and won't work with anything spoiled. However, the Kosher restauranteurs haven't the slightest clue that sushi goes bad in a matter of minutes/maybe a couple of hours as opposed to hours/maybe a couple of days...

It's a scary thing, and Sarah and I are pretty strict about this: that's actually the biggest reason we don't let people bring food over very often (unless it's coming straight here) - I'm not so worried about the kashrut of our friends...