Breaking the Rules: A Look at Food Health Regulations

By: Melaina Gasbarrino

In the case of food health regulations, some restaurants around New York City tend to break the rules. Why you may ask? Well it is due in large part to the chefs knowing the difference between preparing the food the way it should be, or adhering to The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene regulations.

First things first, lets take a look at it from the perspective of New York City's chefs. Through and through, many chefs stick to the stringent regulations as they don't want to downgrade their restaurant from an A to B. With 77% of restaurants receiving a Grade A in health regulations, it's comforting knowing the many nooks and crannies you find restaurants in are Grade A.  For the other 23%, well they have been downgraded to a B because of the most recent violations of 'keeping food too hot or cold', which is notably according to the NY Times' analysis of city records.

Of course we all know how difficult it is to create sushi, but imagine having to create these intricate pieces of food art all the while wearing gloves? It would be the equivalent to trying to get a vegan to eat a California roll, next to impossible of course. At Sushi Yasuda, sushi chefs make sushi barehanded, as they know the degree of precision that's put in each dish. They do this going against regulations but that certainly doesn't stop them from taking their own precautionary measures to protect their diners by washing their hands over 40 times during dinner service.

An unknown chef risks his 7-point citation by bringing steak and poultry to room temperature before he puts them in a pan. Why you may ask, well its because 'very cold meats takes longer to cook - in fact, the outside part gets overcooked - and it just cooks better if it isn't as cold.' Needless to say, this chef is weary of being downgraded by the department of health, but he sticks to his traditional way of cooking meat. The good thing to note in all of this breaking the health code rules is that many chefs follow these rules for fear of being downgraded to a B. The way we look at it is that would you rather be the cool kid who always gets sent to the principals office, or the one who gets perfect grades all the while still being 'cool', we of course would want to be the latter.

Chef Andrew Carmellini of The Dutch restaurant in SoHo sticks to health code even if it means sacrificing the juiciness of chicken. As health code states chicken and pork must be cooked at 165 degrees, no lower. In doing so Chef Carmellini knows the meat is as stiff as a piece of cardboard so if a customer specify they want their meat not well done than he'll cook it to their liking. This is a loophole in the system, if customers want something cooked one way, chefs adhere to their needs, without sacrificing health code violations.

And so with a glimmer of hope, the health department has concerns ranging from temperature requirements to glove wearing that they hope will be addressed on March 7th at The City Council hearing. The major concern the health department has is that 'undercooked or under-refrigerated food is a serious issue where in 2008 dining out was linked to 3,500 hospitalizations for food-borne illnesses and some 1,300 cases of salmonella.' So if that's why there are such stringent requirements in the world of dining, I think it's safe to say we're all happy the health department is looking out for us.

Melaina is from a small town in Ontario, Canada and as an avid environmentalist with a passion for focusing on healthy living. Having traveled the world and written about it every step of the way, she one day hopes to develop unique environmental educational programs for kids. 

Photo: Gerg1967

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