All food service establishments, including restaurants, bars, and mobile food vendors subject to the Letter Grade System, can receive two cycle inspections from the NYC Department of Health. Although the ultimate goal is to get 13 points or less on the initial inspection (and post that “A”), all is not over if that doesn’t happen. The inspector will be back for the graded (second) inspection.
In the meantime, violations are written, fines are assessed, a hearing date is scheduled and a settlement offer is mailed.
The settlement offer…
DO NOT automatically accept. Although there are some violations that cannot be disputed, experience shows that defending the violations at a hearing will often result in a reduction of fines that is lower than the settlement offer. However, if you do accept the settlement (up until the hearing date) in person, you have to pay at the OATH offices.
The OATH hearing…
Also known as the F0 or initial inspection hearing, is based solely on fines. You are allowed to adjourn this hearing date 1 time. Be on time, if you are late, you can be prevented from seeing a Judge.
First things first, read the violation report carefully. If an inspector writes a violation and uses the wrong section of the Code, that violation could be dismissed. Second, sometimes Inspectors make observations that are not accurate, so review the inspector’s comments about the violations. Third, pay attention to the violation and condition level. It’s possible to get some points knocked off simply by pointing out a typo. In other words you have a violation issued with more points assigned than allowed. Example 1 food item out of temperature is 7 points but the report says 9 points.
Be prepared. Bring all relevant evidence with you. If you think something will help your case, bring it! Be polite to the Judge and explain clearly.
When given the choice by the Judge if you want an inspector present, we recommend waiving the inspector’s presence at the hearing.
Often it is beneficial to have someone attend the hearing, don’t represent yourself. There are things that must be left to the professionals. If you hire an accountant to do your taxes, hire an attorney to defend your interests. Hiring an attorney is not expensive and you do not have to personally attend, which in the end can save you time and money.
After the hearing, decisions are usually sent by mail. Any fines assessed must be paid within 30 days from the decision date.
The second inspection also known as the F1 graded inspection…
The inspector is back for the second inspection and you received more than 13 points. Violations are written, points assessed, and another hearing is scheduled. The inspector will hand you a letter grade card (B or C) based on the amount of points you received and a Grade Pending card. You could post either; the choice is yours. However, we recommend posting the GP card until you receive the decision from OATH.
The settlement offer…
DO NOT automatically accept. If you accept this offer, the grade issued at the second (F1) inspection stays and you waive your opportunity for a hearing.
The OATH hearing…
Based solely on points, also known as the F1 inspection hearing, it will determine your letter grade.
Be on time, if you are late, you can be prevented from seeing a Judge. Same suggestions as for the F0 hearing, but this time hopefully when you receive a decision from OATH, your new “A” will be in the big yellow envelope.
To sum it all up…
You will always have two opportunities (inspections) to get an “A”. If you get 13 points or less on the first inspection, bravo. Post the “A” and you are good for about 9-12 months. Don’t get comfortable and stop food safety practices just because you got an “A”.
If you scored 14 points or greater, then the NYC Department of Health will be back for another inspection that will determine your letter grade. You will always have hearings after inspections when 14 points or more are assessed. Don’t automatically accept settlements especially for F1 hearings.
By Rada Tarnovsky Total Food Service February 21, 2019