A guide to help restaurants understand and avoid pest control violations during the NYC health inspection process.
Article by Joseph Salvatore Knipper from MMPC.
NYC Restaurant Health Inspections
One of the duties of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is to inspect restaurants for health-code violations.
Restaurant health inspections were temporarily halted due to the coronavirus pandemic last year, but a modified inspection process was brought back in the fall of 2020. The modified inspection process primarily checks for conditions most associated with food-borne illness, pest conditions, and compliance with COVID-19 guidelines.
In this article, we’ll break down what you need to know about the inspection and grading process for NYC restaurants, and how to avoid pest-related violations.
Changes to NYC Restaurant Inspections during COVID-19
Under non-COVID circumstances, restaurants in NYC are inspected at least once a year.
Each violation a health inspector discovers will be assigned a certain number of points based on the violation code itself, as well as the “violation penalty conditions” (i.e. how severe the violation is).
During COVID-19, there have been some interim changes to this process. After months of COVID-19 related delays, the DOHMH has resumed inspections with an educational rather than punitive focus. Unless there is an immediate health threat, the inspectors will not issue letter grades or summons. Instead, they will merely inspect and instruct.
Additionally, during COVID-19, restaurants are now being notified about the timeframe of upcoming inspections. In normal times, restaurant health inspections are never announced in advance.
The NYC Restaurant Inspection Process
The inspector will look for dozens of violations across two main categories “critical violations” and “general violations.”
Critical violations are those which could contribute to foodborne illness—such as visible signs of pests—and incur a minimum of 5 points. A subcategory of critical violations is public health hazards (minimum of 7 points), which are “critical violations which pose an immediate health threat.”
General violations (minimum of 2 points) relate to the physical set-up of the restaurant itself, such as vermin-proofing and trash receptacles. There is a third category of violation called “unscored violations” which do not incur points but still incur fines.
The number of points received for each critical or general violation depends on its condition level, which is based on the extent and frequency of the violation. The condition level typically ranges from Level I (minimum points) to Level V (maximum points). In most cases, severe violations at Condition Level V are assigned 28 points.
If a restaurant receives 13 points or fewer during an inspection, all is well. The inspector provides a letter grade of “A” to display in the window, and the restaurant will be reinspected in 11-13 months. (There might, however, be a few minor fines for any small infractions found).
If however, the restaurant receives more than 14 points, there are several consequences. Most visibly, they must display a B, C, or “Grade Pending” sign in the window until the next inspection (which will be in 3-7 months, rather than 11-13). They also must pay any fines associated with the violations, which add up quickly.
Finally, the inspector might close down the restaurant under certain circumstances—such as repeatedly failed (28+ points) inspections or if the inspection reveals “a public health hazard that cannot be corrected before the end of an inspection.”
While owners may challenge these consequences in a hearing, the damage to a restaurant’s finances and reputation can be quite extensive.
There are dozens of violation codes in the scoring parameters, but the following four violations are critical violations directly related to pest control:
- 4K: “Evidence of Rats” (Fines $200-$350, 5+ points) – Findings of rat droppings alone is sufficient for this violation. Points start at five and fines start at $200; both can increase depending on the number of rat droppings found. Any live rats found makes this a Condition Level IV, and three or more live rats and/or greater than 100 fresh rat droppings makes this a Condition Level V.
- 4L: “Evidence of Mice” (Fines $200-$350, 5+) – This is scored identically to rats, except that two or more live mice and/or greater than 100 fresh mice droppings are all that is needed for a Condition Level V.
- 4M: “Live Roaches” (Fines $200-$350, 5+) – The greater the number of roaches found, the more fines and points are accrued. Finding 20 or more live roaches merits a Condition Level V.
- 4N: “Flies” (Fines $200-$350, 5+) – This is scored similarly to roaches, except for the exact number of flies needed for each condition. Finding 30 or more flies warrants a Condition Level V.
For all of the above, the evidence does not have to be in a food area to incur the violation, and evidence in more than one area of the restaurant will increase the fine.
What’s the best way to avoid these violations and ace the pest control portion of your next restaurant inspection? In short, invest in an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach to restaurant pest control.
Integrated Pest Management is a method of pest control that focuses on long-term prevention through the manipulation of a pest’s environment, using pesticides sparingly and only when needed.
We’ve made the case that Integrated Pest Management is just good business sense before. We’ve also discussed how restaurants, in particular, should implement it. Good IPM practices include limiting pests’ access to your restaurant, reducing pests’ access to food and water, keeping your space clean, and using pesticides and poisons only as a last resort.
In fact, the NYC Department of Health factors most of these practices into their inspections. The best way to avoid pest-related critical violations is to avoid certain other violations, all of which happen to connect to Integrated Pest Management.
Below is a list of the violations which most directly relate to IPM. To prevent a pest problem, pay special attention to these danger areas.
- 3D “Food packages damaged” (Fines $250-$600, Points 7+) – If food containers are leaking or broken, pests are going to find a way to access that free meal. Interestingly, the only way to incur a condition V for this violation is to refuse to correct the problem when the inspector notices it.
- 6C “Food not properly protected” (Fines $200-$300, Points 5+) – This is scored based on how food is protected during both storage and display, from the condiment dispensers to buffet dishes. Each single food item not properly protected increases the violation by one condition. There is no condition V possible for this violation.
- 8A: “Not vermin-proofing the restaurant” (Fine $200, 5-8 points) – This is a catch-all for reducing access to pests. Restaurant owners should install door sweeps, fill in spaces around pipes, remove cracks, repair holes, and patch screens. This violation can also be incurred for not using pest monitors correctly and not keeping a record of exterminations on the premises.
- 8B: “Not using proper trash receptacles” (Fine: $200, 2+ points) – Improper garbage handling is the surest way to attract many types of pests. To ace this section, empty your trash regularly, ensure all garbage cans have tight-fitting lids, and hose out your trash compactor on a regular basis. While not specifically mentioned in this violation, it’s also a good idea to rinse out your recyclables. Cockroaches and flies love the residue from discarded soda cans.
- 8C: “Improper pesticide and bait safety” (Fine: $200, 2+ points) – Integrated Pest Management strives to use pesticide sparingly. If one needs pesticides or poisons, it’s best to call a professional. However, if an owner prefers a DIY solution, the best way to avoid this violation is to always follow all instructions on the label (and to keep the product properly labeled and stored). This violation can also be incurred for using a pesticide reserved for licensed pest professionals only.
Any restaurant that pays attention to the violations above will be well on its way to a solid Integrated Pest Management plan. NYC also has this handy guidebook for restaurants on pest prevention.
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s inspection process is not as labyrinthine as it first appears, at least in terms of pest control.
Restaurants, cafés, and other food service establishments have little to worry about as long as they pay close attention to those codes which are designed to prevent pests in the first place.
If you’re concerned about pest problems at your restaurant, contact your local pest control professional today. At MMPC, we are always happy to provide consultations and answer questions. We also specialize in Integrated Pest Management and are well versed in NYC safety and health regulations.