Victory! Albuquerque Gives Up Plan to Grade Restaurants (for now)
We did it!
The Albuquerque Mayor and City Council have officially given up on the proposed "Grading System" for Albuquerque restaurants. The New Mexico Restaurant Association has worked diligently over the last year to make sure this out-dated measure did not pass as written. Many meetings were held with the Albuquerque Environment Department to negotiate a compromise measure. However, after months of negotiations the Mayor, Environment Department and City Councilor Trudy Jones would not give up on posted grades and we wouldn't accept this "California-style" regulation for our members.
I would like to thank Mike Maxwell, our Board Chairman and Charlie Gray, President of the Greater Albuquerque Innkeepers Association and all the other NMRA members who met with their city councilors and talked with the Mayor about this ordinance. Your efforts have paid off.
This is not just an Albuquerque-centered effort. NMRA presented our proposal for a new statewide regulation, including the adoption of the latest science-based food code, to the New Mexico Environmental Health Association last month and our proposal was well received. The Bernalillo County Environment Department also consulted with NMRA pertaining to a new ordinance they will be proposing in the near future. We have given our preliminary support for the ordinance the county presented to us.
Please don't relax your guard too much. We have been told that this ordinance may come back after the election but for now let's celebrate!
Proposed Albuquerque Food Sanitation Ordinance
The City of Albuquerque Environmental Health Department and the Albuquerque City Council are considering changes to the city food sanitation ordinance. The main changes would be elimination of the current pass/fail stickers used for inspections to be replaced by a graded system (A, B, C, etc.) and increased permit fees tied to CPI. The New Mexico Restaurant Association takes exception to both of these changes for the reasons outlined below.
Call to Action
- Contact your city councilor (link to listing below) and let them know how these changes will affect your business. Every call and letter counts. Click on the link below to download a sample letter you can revise and send to your councilor. It is important that you revise the letter and put it in your own words. If everyone send the same letter, it will not have the intended impact. To find your councilor and his/her contact information, click on the Albuquerque District Map link below.
- THIS HEARING HAS AGAIN BEEN POSTPONED. DO NOT Attend the Finance and Government Operations Committee Meeting on Monday, June 8 at 5:00 PM to testify about the proposed changes. The meeting will be held in the Council Committee Room - 9th floor, Suite 9081 of the Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Government Center building at One Civic Plaza NW.
- Note to restaurateurs outside of Albuquerque - be aware that the state environment department is gearing up to implement a grading system statewide. You can assist your peers in Albuquerque by contacting the Mayor and City Council as well.
NMRA Position on Proposed Change to the Albuquerque Food Sanitation Ordinance
Grading System "A Solution in Search of a Problem"
A health department inspection sheet, while a matter of public record, is really a working document that is provided by the health department to the restaurant owner and is not designed to serve as a guidepost to the general consumer as to the quality or purity of the food served inrestaurants. The fact that a restaurant is open for business indicates that no health hazard exists at that establishment. If an eating place poses a risk to human health, it should be closed on the spot.
A health inspection report will record items that, in many cases, are fixed during the inspection. Structural issues entirely unrelated to food safety may result in a low score. Since the next inspection will occur months later, the report will not reflect the current conditions in the restaurant. Posting an inspection report would give an inaccurate portrayal of the restaurant’s current condition, turning away customers when no violation exists.
The inspection process provides no opportunity for the restaurant operator to protest marks on the inspection report. The inspection is intended to be a consultative process, not an adversarial one. By mandating posting a restaurant operator will become defensive during an inspection. If poor marks are made on a report with which an operator disagrees, the operator may resort to litigation to avoid the prospect of being unjustly labeled as unsafe. Many restaurant owners willresort to calling city councilors to help rectify the situation.
The fact that one restaurant scores higher on an inspection than another is merely a tool that the environment department and the restaurant can use in order to encourage all restaurants to achieve the highest possible standards in maintaining a sanitary level of operation. To insist on posting the inspection reports would be like requiring a doctor or lawyer to post their college transcripts rather than their licenses, which indicate they are competent to practice.
By adopting the 2005 Model Food Code the city of Albuquerque is agreeing to the latest science-based food safety control system in the country. By not adopting the companion 2005 model inspection sheet and insisting instead on a grading system, the city is creating a conflicting situation. The 2005 MFC requires an operator to correct any critical violations while the inspector is on the premise this would preclude lower grades and once all critical violations have been corrected the restaurant is safe to serve to the public.
The city is putting additional financial burdens on the already beleaguered restaurant industry. We have seen many restaurant closings in the past few months. Now is not the time to put additional burdens on an industry that has nothing but the best interests of the customer in mind.
With inspection reports available online and in the Albuquerque Journal, citizens have the information they need to make informed decisions.
With the addition of a re-inspection fee in the ordinance the environment department could bemotivated to give lower grades to generate money for the city.