The Health Inspector's Coming. Time to Wash the Rats.

In the wake of a swarming-rat scandal that has led to the closure of 13 Yum Brands restaurants in New York City, the lead editorial in today's New York Post suggests the city's Health Department should stop pestering people about their risky habits and get "back to basics." The Greenwich Village KFC/Taco Bell where passers-by noticed and TV cameras recorded two dozen or so rats frollicking around the tables and chairs on February 23 had passed inspection the day before. The incident, says the Post, brings to mind the Health Department's not-so-distant history of corruption:

In 1988, one inspector's reputation for demanding bribes in exchange for clean bills of health became so notorious he was called "Hungry Joe."

His colleague, who was also on the take, once told a new inspector not to fail a paying restaurant unless "he saw rats [mating] in the cream cheese."

In 1989, fully 65 percent of the department's restaurant inspectors—46 out of 70—pleaded guilty to, or were convicted of, extortion.

In this case (as the Post notes), there's no evidence bribery was involved; incompetence and/or negligence seem like adequate explanations. Many people will see the restaurant rats as a striking reminder of the need for city health inspections, and the Post is right that the rationale for government involvement in this area, where the risks may be hidden from sight (when they're not being broadcast on TV), is stronger than the argument for banning trans fats or smoking, both of which are known, avoidable risks.

Yet the background to this case casts doubt, to put it kindly, on the wisdom of trusting the government to inspect restaurants. Yum Brands, which includes Pizza Hut as well as KFC and Taco Bell, has taken a major P.R. hit as a result of these rats—which came to light, it is worth remembering, no thanks to the government. The company has shut down all the outlets run by the franchisee that owns the Greenwich Village restaurant, and it will have a hard time winning back customers who have heard about the infestation or seen the footage. That is as it should be.

Restaurants clearly have a strong interest in protecting their reputations against this sort of damage. In the absence of government-run "inspections," they might be willing to pay an independent, private organization to perform this function. How is this different from bribing a city health inspector for a passing grade? To stay in business, a private inspection service would have to guard its reputation for thoroughness and integrity, just as competing kashrut supervision organizations have to maintain the trust of consumers who observe Jewish dietary laws if they want to keep getting paid for inspections. Some restaurants might rely on internal procedures instead. But all would have to worry about keeping customers coming back (and, in extreme cases, avoiding lawsuits).

Obviously, this solution is not perfect: Although Yum Brands and its franchisee, ADF Companies, both had strong incentives to avoid being associated with those images of swarming rats, they failed to maintain adequate standards and controls. Now they are paying the price. But what do the city's health inspections add to the equation, aside from false reassurance?

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  • ||

    hee hee..."Yum Brands"...more like Yuck Brands.

  • ||

    I think you may under appreciate the value of false confidence. I suspect there are entirely comparable risks whether the goverment is present in food inspection or not. What the government presence does is encourage the suspension of disbelief. People feel like they can go out to more restaurants just because there is some official program 'guaranteeng' their safety.

    Meh. Maybe the whole reponse to statism should be to create government programs with very high visibility and zero practical ability to interfere with normal risk taking.

  • ||

    Health Inspectors are some of the most corrupt people ever. Here in Chicago, a now-deceased relative of mine was a Health Inspector for the city and he would take quite a few bribes to to look the other way or to make sure that the place did. He also sold insurance (workers comp, etc) and he would "suggest" to them that it might be a good idea to get insurance from him.

    I don't know that privatizing would necessarily fix the problem. It seems like a private system would be susceptible to the same kinds of abuses, except that it would be much harder to get caught fudging things or letting things slide?? Why would a private company be more honest? At least with a government institution there could be oversight of the health departments -- not as likely with a private insitution

  • SIV||

    But what do the city's health inspections add to the equation, aside from false reassurance?

    Health inspections limit "unfair" competition.

  • Andy||

    ChicagoTom,

    I think the argument for increased honesty in a private system is that a public system draws its authority from the government - it has been magically certified to do this, and that is never in doubt.

    A private company, however, would draw its authority from trust of the consumers. If a private authority was handling this Yum Brands fiasco, its name would be all over the news. Everyone would instantly avoid any restaurant inspected by Rizzo's Inspection Service, and they'd go out of business.

  • ||

    Jebus, 47 out of 70? That's Mexico-bad.

    But let's not pretend that health inspections do nothing to improve sanitary conditions. I've worked in restaurants, and I've seen them do things they wouldn't otherwise do to keep the place sanitary because of the fear of enforcement.

    Especially the Chinese places. Good Lord.

  • ed||

    What Andy said. Reputation amongst government workers is meaningless. Reputation in the "private sector" is the difference between success and failure, and you need fail only once to be finished.

  • SIV||

    If privatized restaurant health inspections are abusive or corrupt the vendor can choose a different organization or not to participate in health inspection at all.

    Obligatory libertarian analogy-Underwriters Laboratories.

    Full disclosure: I actively seek commercial dining opportunities that are unlicensed and un-inspected.The food is often better, usually cheaper, and not obtainable from Government approved food vendors.

  • ||

    Especially the Chinese places. Good Lord.

    Reminds me that, years ago, our then-favorite Chinese joint got cited for unsanitary practices.

    It turned out that when they needed to shred some cabbage, they would take it out back, put it between two pieces of cardboard, and back over it a couple of times.

    The point, joe, isn't that health inspections are pointless, its that a state monopoly on said inspections is not the optimal way to go about it.

  • SIV||

    joe,


    Racist stereotyping is so un-P.C.

    As a Ultra-RightWing "racist" I don't eat in
    Chinese restaurants that employ Hispanics:)
    You are much "safer" in the kind of place where the owners eat their own food.

  • SIV||

    RC Dean,

    I've used that method for tenderizing/pounding pork and veal. Learned it from the Manifold Destiny cookbook.

  • ||

    We need to install TV cameras monitored by government inspectors and have quotas for the maximum number of allowable rats that can be visible at one time.
    0-5 5 star
    6-10 4 star
    11-15 3 star
    You get the idea. Then we could chose where we want to eat, based on government science.

  • ||

    Private inspection firms may not do the job much better, but it seems they couldn't do it any worse. Plus a private system should be economically more efficient: There wouldn't be a government-enforced monopoly on inspection services, and private firms would have a greater incentive than the government has to find and punish individual inspectors who took bribes instead of doing their jobs.

    I also think the risks are exagerrated. People managed all right for centuries before we had public health inspectors.

  • Jim Murphy||

    I've got my own private sector solution to the rat infestation problem--three words: Jack Russell Terriers!

    In fact, I've developed a comprehensive PR plan for Yum Brands around Jack Russell Terriers. Read it here:

    http://www.prophetsplace.com/blog/?p=349

  • ed||

    What bothers me about those KFC rats is those are the ones that got away!

  • Jim Murphy||

    Forgot to hyperlink my comprehensive PR plan detailing how Yum Brands must draw a "line in the sand" against these godless rodents. Click on my name and it'll get you there ; )

  • ||

    Maybe if the Health Agency were fully funded we wouldn't have this problem. But that money disappeared in a big hole in Iraq.

  • ||

    ?? Local vs. Federal gov't, hello? Not even Dan T. is that lame.

  • Adam||

    I'll buy the private system argument for chain restaurants, but I don't see why single-location restaurants would really feel compelled to hire inspectors.

    I can see why all restaurant owners would keep things reasonably tidy and I don't see catastrophe if we fired all the inspectors today, but I can also see restaurants cutting corners and I can also see some casualties as a result. I also see some lawsuits from said casualties and their next of kin, and pressure from insurance companies on all restaurants to hire private inspectors.

    SIV: as a former black-market food vendor, here's a hearty THANKS FOR YOUR BUSINESS!!

  • ||

    I think a better solution would be to hire a private company to audit the city inspectors and get rid of the corrupt ones. Having private operators doing all the inspections would be a problem because how long would it take for them to build trust? Also, being paid by the restaurants creates a potential conflict of interest.

  • ||

    RC,

    "State monopoly?" Is there some law forbidding private parties from rating restaurants' cleanliness?

    When I worked in the Chinese place, the cooks would keep everything within arm's reach clean as a whistle, and not do any other cleaning the entire night. There would literally be a bubble of lo mein and chicken parts, like there was some kind of filth force field.

    "People managed all right for centuries before we had public health inspectors." They also died from contaminated food and water and much higher rates.

  • I. Self. Divine.||

    Just an idea, but related to what Adam said, what about health inspectors employed by the insurance companies?

  • ||

    I suspect that purely private food inspection would lead to a wide range of outcomes. There would be companies that would develop a reputation as "easy" and so plenty of restaurants would be eager to hire these companies to rate the restaurant. Every now and then the "easy" company would probably make an example out of somebody, just to show that they do in fact take these inspections seriously. But mostly there would probably be a lot of blind eyes turned.

    Such companies wouldn't necessarily inspire much consumer confidence, but it's not clear that people pay much attention to health inspections. I think most people assume that if the place is open then they must be OK. Now, that assumption might change if health inspection bodies didn't have the power to close down a restaurant, but I wonder how much it would change.

    The market for more stringent inspection companies would probably be driven by two forces: (1) restaurants that want to cultivate either a high end or "healthy" image, and so seek the approval of more stringent companies and (2) insurance companies that only insure restaurants approved by stringent companies.

    The truth is that there would be a range of outcomes, and I have no idea if dining would (on balance) be any more or less safe than it is right now.

    Which is not an argument against competing food inspectors, but simply a suggestion that we not be too confident in predicting what would happen.

  • ||

    They also died from contaminated food and water and much higher rates.

    Sure but it was better food preservation technology that saved future generations, not additional regulations.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Time to Wash the Rats

    Now THAT is hilarious.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Good point Lincoln, we don't have open air meat markets with dead chickens hanging on the rack next to summer sausages in the town square anymore, but that isn't a function of government regulation, it is a function of civilization.

  • ||

    Actually, TWC, we would have exactly those conditions without regulation. Not everywhere, but in some places.

    Now this is the part where you argue that people should be able to buy spoiled chicken for their kids if they want to, and how terrible it is that they don't have that choice.

    Lincoln, if you've ever worked in a restaurant, you know that they do change their behavior in response to the possibility of failing an inspection.

  • ||

    Would refridgeration technologies have developed and proliferated as quickly if regulation had not made their use universal?

    Probably not.

  • Thomas Paine\'s Goiter||

    Wait, people actually notice that there are rats in New York City?

    Seriously, how can you tell?

  • ||

    TP'sG:

    The one's that aren't in our asses for pleasure are somehow disgusting to us.

  • SIV||

    Several commenters seem to suggest that inspection be mandatory even with a privatized
    system. The diner should be free to chose where to eat regardless of whether it has been inspected/certified at all.

    Free Market dining health tip #1:

    The tamales should be HOT! McDonalds law suit hot.When the lady opens the cooler or pan steam should billow out.True you have no idea the conditions of the kitchen where they were prepared but cooking and holding at high temperatures should take care of any bacteria.
    Tancredo supporters: Pork is actually cheaper than dog meat.

    I have only purchased a lukewarm tamale from a county/city licensed and inspected vendor- and I wasn't happy.

  • SIV||

    "we don't have open air meat markets with dead chickens hanging on the rack next to summer sausages in the town square anymore"

    No but you will see that and worse in the supermarket. If not for those oppressive "health codes" You could buy the chicken live and have it dressed to order(or take it home and do it yourself).Choice and transparency in processing are good.

  • ||

    Lukewarm Tamale would be a good name for an album.

  • ||

    Pretty disgusting footage to be sure. I would, however, be interested in knowing more about the rat conditions in the surrounding buildings. From what little can be seen in the video it sure looks like the block is pretty seedy. (Or is this what ALL of Greenwich Village is like?)

    The rats came from somewhere. Was the KFC outlet really out of control-- lacking cove base, large amounts of waste lying around, etc-- or are they in an area that has some huge rat infestation going on? The KFC has nice big windows and open tile files where it's easy to see the rats scampering around. Are there neighboring businesses like warehouses that are acting as big breeding grounds? How about the sewers and tunnels-- is there some sort of construction going on that might be forcing rodents elsewhere?

    Not that any of this would entice me to eat there. I'd just like to know whether this is a localized situation or much more widespread. Before I ate at ANYPLACE in the area.

  • ||

    If the incentive for maintaining reputation is so high, and public inspections so obviously worthless, then why don't these places already hire their own independent inspectors? There's nothing stopping them, and it would provide a significant level of embarrassment insurance.

    If we're talking about purely private inspectors, though-- not private inspectors hired to supplement public inspections-- then you're going to have a whole host of other problems. As you point out, the incentive for the company is not necessarily to provide clean and inspection passing facilities. The incentive for the company is to simply manage public perception. Actually keeping a clean restaurant is one way of doing this, but it might not be the cheapest way overall. The bottom line is that the company's interest and the public interest may overlap in places as a matter of fact, but are fundamentally not the same.

  • ||

    I vividly remember eating horse meat during WW2. Meat was rationed, but horse meat wasn't because it wasn't considered for human consumption. Ah, our dog ate well. In France (don't go there) it's still available at clean, modern, refrigerated markets.

  • SIV||

    Would refridgeration technologies have developed and proliferated as quickly if regulation had not made their use universal?

    I wouldn't have a refrigerator if it wasn't for the Damn Guv'mint. We lost all freedom when FDR and that New Deal Congress passed the mandatory refrigerator laws.

  • ||

    They also died from contaminated food and water and much higher rates.

    I question this bit of received wisdom. Setting aside outbreaks of cholera and the like as a result of contaminated water supplies, I'm not convinced that people did die from contaminated food and water at much higher rates before we had public health inspections. Maybe they did. But I'm not aware of good authorities on the subject, and I can see how measuring changes would be difficult, since so many more people live in cities now than 150 years ago, since medical technology has improved so much over that period, and since it's probably impossible to know what deaths and illnesses should/should not be traced to food or water contamination. My point is that I don't think we should accept the truth of the above statement as a given, especially when considering whether public health inspections are worth what they cost.

  • ||

    For example, a nationwide franchise could find it cheaper to run a slick advertising campaign promoting the stores' cleanliness, rather than to actually bring all their individual stores up to the current code. From the company's perspective, so long as the public in general buys the marketing campaign, then everything is fine. From the perspective of an individual patron who doesn't like the idea of unknowingly eating rat feces, not so much.

  • Dan T.||

    Some of these H&R entries unwittingly provide the exceptions that prove the rule.

    The whole reason it's big news that rats were seen in a restaurant that passed inspection is that it doesn't happen very often. And look, we found a case of unproven corruption from 1988! What more proof do you need that government can do nothing right?

  • SIV||

    bchurch,

    don't eat there

  • SIV||

    Dan T,

    Seems like a lifetime since the last salmonella peanut butter scare from a Govt inspected plant.

  • ||

    My mom owned a restaurant. For those of you who haven't been victimized by a crooked health inspector, it's hard to describe the feelings of rage and powerlessness that can be elicited by a smug, (generally) fat bureaucrat with the arbitrary power to shut you down without any legal recourse. Then ask me what difference it makes whether this is done by the government or private sector.

  • ||

    I'd also note that major chains already spend private money to deflect this sort of embarrassment, but it's not spent on extra private inspections. It's spent on buying silence from the occasional patron who gets food poisoning. It's anecdotal, but a friend of mine's family got sick a few years back after eating at a major chain. They called the company, and got a hefty sum for agreeing to keep their mouth shut and their lawyers chained. I'm sure statistic would be impossible to find, but I wouldn't be surprised if this sort of thing is relatively common.

  • I. Self. Divine.||

    Dan T.: I'm pretty sure this was big news because of the video footage that was captured. There is a reason that health inspectors are almost universally assumed to be corrupt.

  • ||

    "don't eat there"

    The entire point is that absent government inspections, and assuming the restaraunt chain has a competent marketing team and some hush money set aside, I wouldn't know where not to eat. Every place would have commercials touting how clean they were, and everyplace would (most already do) pay off the people who do get sick. Trying a new place would be like playing Russian Roulette with your bowels. It would be exactly the same as having mostly corrupt government inspectors, except worse because we wouldn't have even the minimal support of the non corrupt ones.

  • ||

    Yea, bchurch, I'm sure your average restaurant has line item on their P&L called "hefty sum to silence poisoned customers" to which they are relatively indifferent. Get a life, man.

  • Dan T.||

    Dan T,

    Seems like a lifetime since the last salmonella peanut butter scare from a Govt inspected plant.


    And there's no point in doing inspections unless they work with 100% accuracy?

    Oddly enough, Yum Brands is a private company, yet their rat infested restaurant is not held up as an example of how the market failed.

  • ||

    Lukewarm Tamale would be a good name for an album.

    ...and a bad name for a porn star.

  • Dan T.||

    Dan T.: I'm pretty sure this was big news because of the video footage that was captured. There is a reason that health inspectors are almost universally assumed to be corrupt.

    Universally? That's odd, almost everybody I know is more comfortable eating at resturants that get good inspection grades than the ones that get poor reviews. I wonder why that is if we all know those grades are meaningless?

  • ||

    Private organizations do a great deal of credentialing in the health arena. Often, government agencies require health professionals to be certified by private organizations as a condition of licensure. As well, private organizations accredit health education programs and hospitals.

    How good a job they do is debatable. Example: Hospitals must be accredited by The Joint Commission (formerly Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Programs)to receive Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement, but apparently the pass rate is really high (99% according to Wikepedia).

    There are other examples in health care of hospitals voluntarily submitting to credentialing, such as cancer programs that seek Commission on Cancer approval. It's not required and it's expensive so individual institutions weigh for themselves whether the benefits are worth the costs.

  • Fenevad||

    Would refridgeration [sic] technologies have developed and proliferated as quickly if regulation had not made their use universal?

    Probably not.



    Actually, I doubt government regulation made them universal or had much impact. The demand was there before refrigeration technologies. People had ice boxes (in the literal sense) before then and there was a thriving market in the U.S. for ice hauled down from arctic regions.

    The ice barons (there actually was such a thing!) actually tried to suppress refrigeration tecnologies and the fellow who invented the first viable electro-mechanical refrigeration technology never made much money as a result of the barons' attempts to use government to shut him down, but in the end it was customer demand that made the difference: having an electric refrigerator was just a lot more convenient than needing to keep a stock of ice, especially in the summer.

    -Fenevad

  • ||

    OK, so instead of paying to inspectors per volume, why not pay a fee per establishments busted.The current system seems like a works program for inspectors,rather than a real attempt at solving the problem.

    The only problem that I can see is the incentive on inspectors for planting evidence on restaurants in order to improve their record.As with police work, you'd have to have a standard for handling evidence and establishing proof.Still, I think it would be an improvement.

  • ||

    Whuddup h-dawg,

    Are you saying that you don't think large companies-- not just retaraunt chains-- frequently give out "hush" settlements to people threatening to sue them as a public relations strategy? Man, you are naive.

  • ||

    bchurch: Read what I said, not what you think I said.

  • I. Self. Divine.||

    Dan T: We have something in common, I too would prefer to eat at a restaurant taht a corrupt official gave a good rating over one that the same corrupt official gave a bad rating. That does not mean the inspector is any less corrupt.

  • VM||

    highnumber -

    Lukewarm stars opposite Moist Chorizo.

    I'm sure you are up to speed, abreast, if you will, with their work in "Yodel in the Canyon 3: Cabbage, Washed Rats, and What the Inspector Saw"

    When that guy came in after they ordered the pizza. Man, it was awesome.

    Maude says it best...

  • dhex||

    "From what little can be seen in the video it sure looks like the block is pretty seedy. (Or is this what ALL of Greenwich Village is like?)"

    the area is so expensive it's almost impossible to describe. but "seedy" can cover a pretty wide range of joints, of course.

    those hybrid take out chains are, uh, well i've never seen one i'd eat in, on the road or in the city.

  • ||

    I too would prefer to eat at a restaurant taht a corrupt official gave a good rating over one that the same corrupt official gave a bad rating.

    Why? Wouldn't that just mean that the one that got the bad rating wasn't willing to pay the extortion ?

  • SIV||

    bchurch,

    Why do you assume private inspectors to be %100 corrupt? Or that maintaining a corrupt
    sham inspection organization is cheaper than sanitary practices? Safe food is good business.

  • Dan T.||

    Dan T: We have something in common, I too would prefer to eat at a restaurant taht a corrupt official gave a good rating over one that the same corrupt official gave a bad rating. That does not mean the inspector is any less corrupt.

    But if you assume the inspector to be corrupt then why would you give the rating any credence?

  • ||

    h-dawg

    If you are saying that many small places can't afford hush payments, then I'd probably agree. That doesn't prove anything other than they'd be more at risk under purely private inspection, since they can't compete with the big dogs who can afford to cut prices with shoddy standards and pay people off. Right now, those big companies are held to the same standards as your mom's place. Without that government pressure, your mom would still be forced to higher standards (because she's stands to lose more from a sick patron), or she could cut corners and hope nobody gets sick. The franchises she's competing with wouldn't have to face that dilemna.

    And this hasn't even factored in the customers perspective. As a customer you have to chose between places in a race to the bottom, to see who can spend the least amount of money on cleanliness without facing consequences in terms of public perception (again, it's the perception, not the actual facts, that would matter). Where's that bottom out, exactly, and do you really think it's at a higher level than current gov. standard?

  • ||

    highnumber,

    Luke Warmtamale, on the other hand....

    Fenevad,

    There was demand for ice, as you say, but the health codes resulted in practices that required much more refridgeration, thus spurring the new technologies.

  • ||

    "State monopoly?" Is there some law forbidding private parties from rating restaurants' cleanliness?

    Only the state/municipal inspection will keep the state from shutting you down.

    "If you don't use our inspector, we will close you down" is plenty close enough to a monopoly for me.

  • ||

    Jim Murphy,

    I'm a Rat Terrier guy myself. But they're closely related enough to Jack Russells for me to know exactly what you mean.

    These dogs live to kill rodents! I promise that a few of them set loose in that restaurant would clear it in a heartbeat.

    Fantastic breed. Seriously, if anyone is considering a dog - consider adopting a Rat Terrier. I know it's only tangentially related to the thread at best, but I just wanted to throw that out there.

  • Dan T.||

    Libertarians could probably stand to choose thier battles a little better. It's one thing to say the government shouldn't lock people up for victimless crimes, but if you're going to tell people that government inspections of restaurants is a bad idea you are not going to win many converts.

  • ||

    SIV,

    "Why do you assume private inspectors to be %100 corrupt? Or that maintaining a corrupt
    sham inspection organization is cheaper than sanitary practices? Safe food is good business."

    Private inspectors won't be 100% corrupt, they'll just be looking out for different interests. The interest of the government enforcement is maintaining certain standards. The interest of the private enforcement is maintaining public perception of standards.

    Sanitary practices, as defined by the health code, aren't cheap. How much money do you think McDonalds spends per year on pest extermination, on hourly wages for people cleaning? The cost of replacing expired goods alone has got to be enormous. And the large chains still end up paying people off in the end for publicity reasons. Now it might not be cheaper for every single franchise in every single instance to cut corners and spend some of that savings on marketing, etc. In some cases, honestly good standards might pay off. But not in every case, and the competitive pressure, to a point, is for less money spent, not more money spent. If you don't want to end up in one of those places, the best thing to do is not to make food sanitation a priority that's contigent on the company's bottom line.

  • ||

    Dan T.:

    I think restaurant inspects are crucial to the industry surviving, even if it is corrupt. And when the Department of Health starts getting involved in banning transfats, more menu information, stop smoking campaigns and many other things that a modern Dep't of Health deals with, the restaurant inspections go down. Did you see how many adult rats were running around in that restaurant? I can't imagine that happening even in the corruption days.

  • I. Self. Divine.||

    Dan T and ChicagoTom: I would prefer the one with the better rating simply because there is a slightly (no matter how insignificant) better chance that my food might be rat shit free. I'm in no way saying that the current system is in any way effective. Totally the opposite. When a state monopoly forces me as a consumer into a position where I have to choose between possibly rat shit infested and possibly MORE rat shit infested, something needs to change. It seems to me that the easiest and most beneficial way to regulate this would be on the part of the insurance companies. You don't pass the inspection, you don't get the insurance. In this situation, the insurance company has an interest in making sure the inspections (and inspectors for that matter) are fair and honest: if the inspectors give a shitty restaurant a pass, the company pays out more premiums, if their standards are too strict or unfair, they won't have any customers. Likewise, without insurance, the restaurant is liable for any health issues, which is motivation to either meet the standards, or stay uninsured and keep your establishment in impeccable condition in order to make sure noone getts sick and sues.

  • ||

    RCDean,

    There's nothing preventing a business from deciding it wants additional private inspections. If the companies' private incentives for maintaing a high health standard were as high as Mr Sullum suggests, then we would see companies opting for additional non-mandatory inspections as well. I don't know of a single place that's done this, though-- maybe the cost/benefit doesn't quite work out the way Mr Sullum thinks it might.

  • SIV||

    Holy Christ! Is this place troll ridden.

    joe is still "arguing" the government invented and created the demand for refrigerators.
    I'm sure it was the Progressives- Conservatives were still pursuing their reactionary goal of abolishing canning.

  • ||

    bchurch -- Why is it bad for customers if businesses pay them money when they get sick from their food?

  • SIV||

    "I think restaurant inspects are crucial to the industry surviving"


    WTF?

    Without the Government demand for food would just dry up to nothing.

    The State Has Won

  • ||

    One thing people need to keep in mind is that inspectors aren't omnipresent or omniscient. It's quite possible for a completely honest and competent gov't inspector to give those restaurants a clean bill of health because they were in compliance at the time of the inspection. After the inspector left, that's when the rats came out.

    Like joe, I've worked in the restaurant business and I've seen the reaction that an unannounced inspection can produce. There needs to be some oversight, simply because when you've got a line of customers snaking out the door during lunch hour and you're shorthanded, cleanliness and safe food handling are the last things on your mind.

    Unlike joe, I think that in some cases at least the private sector can do the job as well or better than a local gov't entity. Larger chains usually have internal company inspectors who are more strict than the health department. I would have thought Yum brands fell into this category (perhaps it does) but in any case it's obvious they couldn't do any worse. Perhaps there should be an "opt-out" provision for those companies that want to accept the responsibility (and potential liability) themselves.

    Nevertheless, I would agree that restaurant inspections are a much more justifiable exercise of government authority, than say, voluntary activities like smoking or eating Krispy Kremes to excess. Foodborne outbreaks of salmonella or hepatitis can affect the general population.

  • ||

    jp

    Because the price of the pay off is not necessarily tied to the cost (to the customer) of getting sick and possibly dying. It's tied to the threat of litigation, the ease of which depends on various other laws and factors (see medical malpractice). The price of your silence is up to the company, not you-- it won't necessarily fit in to the cost you've paid in getting sick off their food.

  • ||

    Private food inspection is not that new, and worked very well in the past.

    In the early 1930s Duncan Hines(yes the cake guy) was a traveling salesman. On his many journeys he ate at many a restaurant, some better than others. He started compiling lists of these restaurants rating them on things like cleanliness, service, food quality, etc. He would hand out copies to anybody who asked and eventually those lists became so popular he began to print them as "Adventures in Good Eating". Mr. Hines never accepted money for entry into his book and to have the "Duncan Hines Approved" placard outside was a status symbol guaranteed to boost business. This worked very well as most "roadside" restaurants did not fall under the jurisdiction of city health inspectors. When there was a gap in government coverage the private industry filled in and I see no reason that it wouldn't work today.

  • ||

    Capt Holly,

    "One thing people need to keep in mind is that inspectors aren't omnipresent or omniscient. It's quite possible for a completely honest and competent gov't inspector to give those restaurants a clean bill of health because they were in compliance at the time of the inspection. After the inspector left, that's when the rats came out.

    Like joe, I've worked in the restaurant business and I've seen the reaction that an unannounced inspection can produce. There needs to be some oversight, simply because when you've got a line of customers snaking out the door during lunch hour and you're shorthanded, cleanliness and safe food handling are the last things on your mind."

    I spent 3 years as a short order cook at a small family owned bar&grill, and your experience matches up pretty well with my own. I would also say that out of all the inspectors I met, none of them were corrupt, per se. But 99% of them were assholes.

  • ||

    Kwix-

    Fascinating story. I suspect that something like that would work even better in the era of the internet.

  • ||

    Kwix

    Good point. Food critics should be run by the state too. :)

  • ||

    SIV: You might have an argument against what I said. What you posted, however, isn't it.

  • ||

    bchurch -- Because the price of the pay off is not necessarily tied to the cost (to the customer) of getting sick and possibly dying. It's tied to the threat of litigation, the ease of which depends on various other laws and factors (see medical malpractice). The price of your silence is up to the company, not you-- it won't necessarily fit in to the cost you've paid in getting sick off their food.

    The threat of litigation will drive up, not down, the amount a business would be willing to pay. And if the payment is still not what the customer is willing to accept, then he can go ahead and sue, like the McDonald's hot-coffee lady.

  • ||

    I'm sorry Joe and Dan T. - does the government enforce the Zagat ratings? How on earth did they come into being without government backed regulation?

    Your comments are the progressive in a nutshell - others are too stupid or lazy to figure out how to use or organize a health rating system. We'd better make a law to do both. Others are so greedy and corrupt they would willingly harm other humans at the drop of a hat for more money. We'd better make more regulations. And those regulations aren't having the intended effect? Make more regulations that try to cover the first. And on and on and on.

    Unspoken is how the two of you figured out what people should do in the first place. Is the "common man" uncapable of deducing what you did? And exactly what would happen if you owned the local Pizzeria? Would you let rats overrun the place?

    A restaurant is not going to stay in business if it poisons the clientele. Even if section 205c.11 of the public health code doesn't exist.

    I understand you are always able to truely see the world as it is while the ignorant masses go about their daily toil. We appreciate your help but we're fine on our own. Thanks.

  • ||

    There are plenty of companies that do pretty much what private health inspectors would do, only in other fields... UL comes to mind.

    They certify stuff like light bulbs as safe, and guess what? They're not any part of the government. They are totally private.

    The reason why it works is because their mark only remains valuable as long is it's accurate.

  • SIV||

    Lamar,

    Sorry for taking your post out of context,
    I pretty much agree with the rest of it in regard to regulatory agencies expanding their oversight to extremes and losing their initial purpose.

    I stopped reading at the first part suggesting
    Govt inspection is necessary for business viability. I was still reeling from the joe statement that humans would only adopt food preservation technologies under threat of State force.

  • JD||

    The rats came from somewhere. Was the KFC outlet really out of control-- lacking cove base, large amounts of waste lying around, etc-- or are they in an area that has some huge rat infestation going on?



    Yes, they are in an area that has a huge rat infestation. It's called "New York City". Seriously, there are rats all over the place here. I see rats almost every time I'm in the subway. Not long ago I saw three rats crawling around in a garbage can in a park, in broad daylight. Now, I don't see them in my place (although I did have mice a while back), but then I am not running a restaurant either.

    I've read a bit about the health inspections, and I have a friend who works at restaurants with whom I've discussed this stuff. I wouldn't say the health inspections are worthless, but let me put it this way: not a single one of you has a kitchen at home that would pass inspection.

  • ||

    "The threat of litigation will drive up, not down, the amount a business would be willing to pay. And if the payment is still not what the customer is willing to accept, then he can go ahead and sue, like the McDonald's hot-coffee lady."

    Not always because not all threats of litigation are created equal. Regardless of the facts of the case-- if the company thinks they can win, and a settlement would be more costly than litigating and winning, then screw you and your food poisoning. And you can guarantee that if suing was the only means a customer had for ensuring high standards of sanitation, then laws would be passed to restrict litigation. Also, some small businesses would probably not be able to afford actual restitution if the food, say, killed someone. Nuts to the deceased.

    By analogy, should we get rid of a law against assault, just because the victim can always file civil suit against the aggressor? I think most people would rather have assault be illegal, for the same reason most people (outside this board, apparently) are happy with health regulations.

  • Fenevad||

    There was demand for ice, as you say, but the health codes resulted in practices that required much more refridgeration, thus spurring the new technologies.



    Joe, I'm afraid you've simply got the history wrong and I guess you missed the litte bit about the ice barons using government to suppress refrigeration technology. The government's early track record here was one of active suppression, not helping. The new technologies were developed in spite of the government. Only later did the government jump on board after they quick being obstructionist on this. Initial development of refrigeration had nothing to do do with government health regulations and happened despite governmental opposition.

    I think you need to look at the history. The folks who made it commercially viable were beverage sellers who found cold drinks sold better and food vendors who found that rotten food didn't sell too well, not government agents intent on making us more healthful.

    You might want to read this article, which is not a libertarian bit at all. Note that governmental regulation isn't mentioned as a driver at all, but it was business that was looking for cheaper ways to reduce spoilage or meet customer demand.

    -Fenevad

  • ||

    There's nothing preventing a business from deciding it wants additional private inspections.

    Except that such inspections are rendered redundant and ineffective by the state inspection. The private inspection won't keep the state from shutting you down. So what's the point?

  • el Alaskano||

    Totally off topic, but no one has ever figured out why Anchorage, Alaska doesn't have rats. It's a port town with relatively mild weather, so it seems like it would be ideal for rats, but there are none there (they survive in captivity just fine). They thrive in other parts of Alaska (like Fairbanks). I guess it's time to call Art Bell…

  • ||

    By analogy, should we get rid of a law against assault, just because the victim can always file civil suit against the aggressor? I think most people would rather have assault be illegal, for the same reason most people (outside this board, apparently) are happy with health regulations.

    bchurch -- This reasoning proves too much, as they say. By this logic, we should make careless driving, having icy sidewalks, and other negligent activity into crimes, as opposed to leaving them to the civil litigation system, because they might cause physical harm to people.

  • ||

    "bchurch -- This reasoning proves too much, as they say. By this logic, we should make careless driving, having icy sidewalks, and other negligent activity into crimes, as opposed to leaving them to the civil litigation system, because they might cause physical harm to people."

    Well, you'll probably be unhappy to know that careless driving is in fact a crime. And there is such a thing as broad criminal negligence, even in otherwise legal activities. The police state isn't coming, it's already here!

    I see your point, of course. On one end of the spectrum is the dangerous (and IMO, criminal) anarchy of libertarian's dreams, on the other hand is big beaurocratic brother. Luckily, we have a system to determine when laws are necessary deterrents-- representative democracy. You can go ahead and start the "end health regulations for food now!" movement, and make your case that the laws are not needed. If enough people share your confidence in the unencumbered marketplace to keep us safe (or if they don't mind risking their life as long as they can sue) then you might end up getting your way. I wouldn't hold my breath though.

  • ||

    el Alaskano,

    The answer is we shoot them on sight.

  • ||

    The presumption that a food purveyor is indifferent to the harm they cause their customers, that they can somehow profit from a rat infestation, or that a bureaucrat with zero accountability and unchecked power is the solution to this "problem" is so ridiculous that I don't think it's even worth engaging after it has been explained. Time to move on from this discussion...

  • ||

    RC Dean,

    "Except that such inspections are rendered redundant and ineffective by the state inspection. The private inspection won't keep the state from shutting you down. So what's the point?"

    The point, as argued by Mr Sullum above, would be to prevent the loss of business caused by a scandal of this sort. If it was a big motivator, and if private inspections were the best solution to public relations issue like this, then we'd already see widescale private inspections in action.

  • Tym||

    Get a Cat.

  • ||

    And you can guarantee that if suing was the only means a customer had for ensuring high standards of sanitation, then laws would be passed to restrict litigation.


    bchurch does have a point here. Of course, the answer is fewer laws restricting litigation not more laws restricting food preparation but still, it is a valid point.

  • ||

    By the way, having an icy sidewalk or driveway (construed as a failure to maintain ice free sidewalk) is against many if not most local building codes, the violation of which is the grounds for these "slipping on an ice patch" suits.

  • violent_k||

    From the Snell Foundation website:

    There are two organizations setting safety standards for motorcycle helmets in the United States, the Federal Government's Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Snell Memorial Foundation. DOT sets minimum standards that all helmets sold for motorcycling on public streets must meet. The standard is Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218 (FMVSS 218) and is known commonly as the DOT helmet standard.

    The Snell Memorial Foundation is a private not-for-profit organization that sets voluntary standards for motorcycle helmets, bicycle helmets and auto racing helmets, as well as other kinds of protective headgear. Snell standards are the world's toughest. We demand quite a bit more protective capability in helmets than anybody else on the planet.

    There are also administrative differences between Snell and DOT. Snell Certification means that Snell technicians in Snell labs tested samples of the helmet to Snell standards before the helmet was certified. Furthermore, as a condition of certification, Snell regularly buys samples of all Snell certified products and brings them into our lab for follow-up testing.

    DOT certification is done on the honor system. The helmet's manufacturer determines whether his helmets satisfy DOT and then claims the qualification for himself. There is not even a reporting requirement. The government does contract for some spot check testing at commercial and private labs but not very much. In recent years much of their effort has been spent against so-called beanie helmets that are obviously substandard and are worn only by helmet law protesters.
    http://www.smf.org/articles/dot.html


    I don't know that this applies directly to restaurants, but it's pretty obvious which organization is more concerned with safety in this case.

  • ||

    The point, as argued by Mr Sullum above, would be to prevent the loss of business caused by a scandal of this sort.

    As also discussed above, though, the market is indifferent to additional certifications because the mandatory state inspection has "occupied the field" and created a (false) sense of adequacy/security among the buying public.

  • ||

    If enough people share your confidence in the unencumbered marketplace to keep us safe (or if they don't mind risking their life as long as they can sue) then you might end up getting your way.

    Indeed, persuading people to be confident in the unencumbered marketplace is one of the goals of Reason.

  • bill||

    I'm confused, are there even any restaurants in NY that DON'T have rats?

  • ||

    >I don't know that this applies directly to restaurants, but it's pretty obvious which organization is more concerned with safety in this case.

    This is similar to what I wrote about with regard to health professionals, who are licensed by the government but who often, depending on the specific profession and the state, receive their competency testing and certification from private organizations. However, the credentialing agencies do have to be approved by whatever government agency licenses the profession so competition is circumscribed. Sometimes there is a single approved agency and sometimes there are multiple ones. In cases where there are multiple agencies, employers often have preferences about which credential they will accept, or might pay higher wages for one credential versus another.

    I think this system makes a lot of sense. It's very difficult for government bureaucracies to stay abreast of medical advances so that they are testing for the right competencies. It can also be difficult for them to simply process applicants and get them through the system so they can work. A few years ago in one state, "emergency legislation" was passed to create a category of hospital laboratory worker with an intermediate level of training due to a shortage of laboratory scientists. The education programs were put in place and the first class of students graduated (a 2-year program), but the overwhelmed licensing agency wasn't yet in a position to do the testing or issue licenses for the profession. The new grads were left with the options of either taking lower level laboratory jobs that they were overqualified for or not working in a laboratory at all until the state could get it together. So much for the emergency response to a workforce shortage.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Violent K, Excellent post, I have always been a fan of the Snell Foundation, and not just because that's my last name (no, my real last name is not Commonsewer, although I've been called worse).

    More on point is the fact that Snell Foundation certified motorcycle helmets saved my life, not once, but twice. That Snell Approved Grant Daytona absorbed everything the 405 freeway could dish out. BTW, bouncing around on the concrete at 80 mph on your head makes you see your life pass in front of your face, just like the cartoons.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Actually, TWC, we would have exactly those conditions without regulation. Not everywhere, but in some places.

    Joe, if a law is all it takes, let's get the Third World on the horn...........

    There is simply no way that the health department can guarantee food safety. Food safety happens regardless of the health department.

    I will grant you that, at the margins, a few purveyors will be persuaded by the threat of inspection to keep a cleaner place of business, but in practice surprise inspections result from a complaint about unsanitary conditions that the health department DID NOT protect consumers from.

    The rest of the time, the only guarantee you have is that on the day the health department performed the regularly scheduled inspection everything was okay. Got that white sign with the BIG BLUE A in the window to prove that. At least here in the Great State of Californicate. And that sign stays put until the next inspection, by law.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Now this is the part where you argue that people should be able to buy spoiled chicken for their kids if they want to, and how terrible it is that they don't have that choice.

    That's really funny.

  • ||

    When I want spoiled chicken, I just leave it out overnight. Voila!

    or

    When I want spoiled chicken, I just buy it whatever it wants, no matter what the cost.

  • ||

    The answer is we shoot them on sight

    I know rats are vermin and all, but this story features the following excerpt:

    "Sinnott and Wallace found two white rats beneath the stairs, along with a tiny pet carrier complete with mashed up vegetables and some -- no joke -- rat toys."

    I can't help but feel a little sad for the two unfortunate rats and their erstwhile owner.

  • ||

    "The answer is we shoot them on sight"

    Thanks for the little article and the quote, which has a nice sort of John Wayne swagger and directness to it. However, the simple fact that there is a Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage kind of ruined it all for me. The guy's a moron. You guys might want to take that subject up after you've gunned down a few more rats.

  • ||

    Q&A on how to bathe your rats before taking them to a rat show.

  • ||

    I, for one, don't understand why everyone is making such a to do over this. Did y'all get a good look at those rats - how fat and sassy they looked? They were obviously well-fed. Don't y'all know a roach control method when you see one?
    BTW those aren't rat turds in the soup - they're capers. ;-)

  • dhex||

    "I'm confused, are there even any restaurants in NY that DON'T have rats?"

    the falafel van on 25th and 6th. that dude is something else, lemme tell you. i could eat that shit for breakfast.

  • ||

    hmmmm.....tastes just like chicken....
    ......the other white meat

  • ||

    I'd be fine with a Ted Stevens Memorial International Airport.

    I sure wish our states and the feds kept to a general rule that you can't name public works after anyone until they've been dead for 10 or 20 years. History has a way of overtaking journalism, and yielding wiser judgments.

    Kevin

  • ||

    Just tonight I had to watch the local news as they sensationally reported on my restaurant's recent '61' failing health score.

    Not a single lost point was due to a food safety issue, but rather due to a hormonal pregnant health inspector who was obviously pissed off about something unrelated to my restaurant.

    The list of citations was an absolute joke and a big disservice to society. I have learned now that a health score is utterly meaningless because the scoring is so wildly subjective and inconsistent. 5 months ago we received a '99' from another inspector and nothing has changed in the meantime.

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