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Democratic mayoral contender Kathryn Garcia needs a gut check.
The former sanitation commissioner, who is tied for fourth place in the crowded primary race, according to the latest poll, made the head-scratching claim that food poisoning from dining out or takeout isn’t much of an issue in the Big Apple.
“You’re talking about how many people have ever gotten sick from a restaurant in New York City? It really doesn’t happen,” Garcia said Thursday night during the race’s first televised debate on Spectrum News NY1.
In fact, over 6,000 residents are hospitalized yearly for food-borne illnesses, according to the city Health Department.
Garcia made the claim when asked by one of the debate panelists which city regulation she’d change to help struggling small businesses recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
“A more fundamental challenge, particularly for restaurants, is the surprise inspections of the health inspector,” Garcia said, after other candidates chose to waive fines for businesses that violate signage rules.
“We do need to make sure we are inspecting restaurants, but they can schedule the appointment so they are staffed to be able to manage it moving forward rather than losing a whole night’s worth of receipts,” Garcia said.
“They wouldn’t hide stuff? And clean up for the inspector with the appointments?” asked the panelist, WNYC radio’s Brian Lehrer.
“They would not be hiding stuff with the appointments. You’re talking about how many people have ever gotten sick from a restaurant in New York City? It really doesn’t happen,” Garcia said.
“We know this is the hardest thing on restaurants and the thing that makes it really difficult for them to stay open because you lose a whole night of work,” she added.
But food poisoning is such a serious issue in the city that the Health Department worked with Columbia University’s computer experts to develop a program that would scour Yelp reviews for words like “vomit” and “diarrhea” to track down cases of food-borne illness, according to Patch.
The top culprits were undercooked eggs and meat as well as unpasteurized dairy.
Restaurants typically get one unannounced visit from a health inspector yearly. The trips result in the A to C letter grades that eateries must display in their windows so diners are aware, and they have an opportunity to get a follow-up check to fix the problems and raise their grade.
But Andrew Rigie, head of the industry group the NYC Hospitality Alliance, said Garcia is right to be concerned about the surprise checks.
“Inspectors often enter a restaurant in the middle of a busy dinner service and disrupt operations, delay food getting to guests and then they may have to comp items, and it also freaks out customers who think there must be something wrong because they don’t know it’s just an ordinary inspection,” Rigie explained.
“The city can modify the inspection schedule and also reduces fines, while ensuring high food safety standards,” he said.
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