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What do all the food grades in NYC windows mean? Is Grade Pending a bad omen?

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If you've ever strolled through New York City, you've probably noticed the bold letter grades displayed in restaurant windows: A, B, or C. But what do these grades actually mean, and should you steer clear of a place with a “Grade Pending” sign? It's all to do with health and hygiene and here's what you need to know.

NYC's Restaurant Grading System: A Quick Breakdown

New York City's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene conducts regular inspections (more on how often, below) to ensure food safety standards in restaurants. The grades are based on the number of health code violation points (“sanitary violations”) a restaurant receives:

Grade A (0-13 points): Indicates the fewest violations and generally means the restaurant presents a low risk for foodborne illness. Restaurants with this grade demonstrate excellent food handling practices and a commitment to sanitation.

Grade B (14-27 points): Signifies some violations, often not as severe, but still requiring attention. These violations might include minor issues with equipment maintenance, temperature control, or pest control. Restaurants are expected to address these issues promptly.

Grade C (28 or more points): Suggests significant violations that could potentially lead to foodborne illness. Examples include inadequate cooking temperatures, cross-contamination between raw and cooked foods, or improper employee hygiene practices.

If a restaurant has severe failings, like an infestation, or a situation that the DOH thinks is too dangerous, the restaurant is shutdown immediately (there are no worse grades given out beyond “C”).

It's important to note too that the points are only related to threats to the safety of the food and its serving. No other violations are scored or contribute to the grade, like not displaying Health Department-issued permits or posting the letter grade. They are separate “other violations” and are not related to the score.

Food Grade Pending Sign in front of Food

What Does “Grade Pending” Mean?

“Grade Pending” means that on both the initial inspection and reinspection, the restaurant received 14 or more points (a B or C grade)1.

Following that re-inspection, the restaurant can post “Grade Pending” or the letter grade while they have the opportunity for an administrative hearing to determine the final grade. The appeals process enables restaurants to contest the inspection findings if they believe they are inaccurate or unfair.

Importantly, the “Grade Pending” doesn't always indicate terrible conditions. It simply means the final grade hasn't been determined yet, and many restaurants quickly rectify minor violations and improve their grades within a short time.

How often are New York City restaurants inspected?

Restaurant inspections in New York City are not on a strictly fixed schedule. The frequency depends on a restaurant's previous inspection history and risk factors.

The “initial cycle” of inspections is an unannounced inspection approximately once a year. Then, if a restaurant receives a B or C grade, they typically undergo a re-inspection within a shorter timeframe to ensure violations have been corrected. The frequency of these re-inspections depends on the severity of the violations:

4-27 points (B grade): Re-inspection within 150-210 days.
28 points or more (C grade): Re-inspection within 90-150 days.

There are also considerations for particular risk factors and higher-risk foods, so if a restaurant falls into a high-risk category, they may be re-inspected more frequently. This also applies to those restaurants who have a history of violations, who may receive more unannounced inspections than others.

Should You Avoid “Grade Pending” Restaurants?

It's best to use some caution, but not necessarily summarily avoid. If you're concerned about food safety, you might want to wait until the restaurant displays its final grade. However, keep in mind that many restaurants with “Grade Pending” are actively working to address violations and may soon receive a better grade.

You can check the updated grades on the NYC Health Department website which also provides detailed inspection reports so you can make informed choices. This allows you to look up specific restaurants to see what kind of violations led to the “Grade Pending” status and assess their severity.

NYC's restaurant grading system empowers diners with valuable information. While “Grade Pending” warrants some awareness, it doesn't necessarily mean a restaurant is unsafe. Do your research and make choices that feel right for you.

  1.!/faq โ†ฉ๏ธŽ
Josh Pugh

Josh Pugh

Josh is a business founding, digital marketing focused, charity driving, community builder from South Australia, living in New York City. After moving in 2017, Josh realized that there was an opportunity to curate and help the community of expats who moved to the United States โ€“ and launched America Josh. Josh is also the President of Variety โ€“ the Children's Charity of New York, Secretary at The Mateship Foundation, and Founder & CEO at Fortnight Digital.View Author posts

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