Audit Says New York Health Inspectors Go Easy on Restaurant Violations

Food safety inspectors in New York state failed to take action in response to hundreds of serious health code violations, according to a state audit published Friday.

Officials from state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office analyzed 984 violations categorized by local health inspectors as Class I – the most serious classification. They found that 73% of the violations resulted in no significant enforcement action, such as a fine or closure.

The violations included failure to properly refrigerate food and allowing food to be touched by sick employees, DiNapoli, a Democrat, said in a statement.

“Failing to hold those with serious violations accountable could be a recipe for disaster,” DiNapoli said.

Auditors also found errors in inspection data and problems with the way information about inspections is reported and shared between offices.

Local health departments blamed a lack of funding or staff for the problems identified by the state, according to the audit.

In New York state, inspections of restaurants and other facilities serving food are carried out by a mix of state officials and local health departments.

Inspectors look for unsanitary conditions, food contamination, pests or other violations of the state health code at more than 96,000 restaurants, cafeterias, bars and other food service establishments around the state.

State and local health departments conducted more than 417,000 inspections between Jan. 1, 2014, and Sept. 18, 2017, the period covered by DiNapoli’s audit. Those inspections uncovered more than 1.2 million sanitary violations.

State health officials acknowledged some of the problems and said they would review policies to ensure local inspectors are following the rules.

In its formal response, the state’s Department of Health noted that often serious violations identified by inspectors are rectified immediately by staff and require no further action.

Additionally, agency spokeswoman Jill Montag noted the auditors found no indication that inspectors violated regulations or the law.