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NYS Introduces New Inspection Ratings for Retail Food Stores
New York Ag Connection - 01/11/2018

State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball Wednesday announced that New York State has introduced a new letter rating system for its food safety inspections of retail food stores. Starting January 1, the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets began providing an improved notice of inspection to retail food store owners following their annual inspections, which will more clearly display if the retail food establishment complies with current laws and regulations. The letter grading will help consumers better understand the sanitary conditions of the store and provide an opportunity for better education to store owners.

Commissioner Ball said, "Consumers want to know now more than ever about their food, including how it was handled from farm to table. That means our retail food establishments need to be doing their part, making sure they are implementing good food safety practices and posting the results of their inspection in a location visible to all consumers. We hope this change will not only inform consumers but also help educate our store owners."

Following the Department's sanitary inspection of the retail food store, the inspector will give the store an "A," "B," or "C" letter grade, which corresponds to the results of the most recent sanitary inspection.

A -- No critical deficiencies were found. (Food safety program in place is working.)

B -- Although critical deficiencies were found, they were corrected at time of inspection. (Room for continuous improvement)

C -- Critical deficiencies were found but were not or could not be corrected. (Need for immediate corrective action.)

The Department will require that the Notice of Inspection be posted in an obvious location near each public entrance to the retail store. Consumers can also request copies of the inspection notice from the retailer. Retail facilities face a $600 fine for not complying with the Department's posting requirement.

The Department made this change to its inspection review after conducting outreach to stakeholders and meeting with the Food Industry Alliance (FIA), which represents the grocery industry in New York State. FIA's 800 corporate members include independents, supermarkets, convenience stores, wholesalers, co-operatives and manufacturers/suppliers.

Food Industry Alliance President & CEO Michael Rosen said, "Our members take food safety very seriously and believe the new system will provide more transparency to the public."

The Department's Division of Food Safety and Inspection inspects retail food stores, convenience stores, bodegas, grocery stores, and supermarkets on, at least, an annual basis across the state. Trained food inspectors proactively look for issues that could lead to foodborne illnesses (critical deficiencies), such as those that involve the food source and condition, food cooking and storage temperatures, sanitary practices of food workers, among others. They also inspect for concerns that do not directly cause foodborne illness but could negatively affect the operation of the food store (general deficiencies). These deficiencies relate to the design and maintenance of the establishment as well as its cleanliness.

The Division of Food Safety and Inspection works to ensure that the food and feed supply is safe for New Yorkers to consume. This is the Department's largest division, with a staff of approximately 150 full-time employees, covering every county in the state. In addition to regular inspections, the Division handles licensing of the State's food processing and retail food establishments, collects food products for analysis by the Department's Food Laboratory, investigates consumer complaints of foodborne illnesses, and verifies product labeling. The Division has a robust food surveillance program, regularly discovering products found to contain undeclared ingredients and live pathogens. Most recently, the Division was involved in several investigations regarding products contaminated with heavy metals and industrial dyes. This work received recognition by the FDA, led to several recalls, found at https://www.agriculture.ny.gov/AD/alertList.asp, and seizure of several tons of contaminated products.

The Division also hosts New York's Commercial Animal Feed, Pet Food and Farm Products programs. For more information on the Division's compliance history and types of deficiencies commonly observed, please visit the Department's website at https://www.agriculture.ny.gov/FS/FSHome.html.

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