Boston Restaurants on Track for Health Inspection Letter Grades

Mayor Walsh filed an ordinance to establish the program citywide.

After a pilot program launched this year by the city’s Inspections Services Department, Mayor Martin J. Walsh has submitted an ordinance to fully establish a restaurant grading system in Boston. If the decree is passed, roughly 3,000 food vendors—including food trucks and cafeterias—around town will be required to clearly post their assessed letter grade on an exterior wall of their establishment.

“Boston’s restaurants play a strong role in fueling our local economy, and it is our job to ensure these establishments are adhering to all required codes to protect Boston’s residents and visitors,” Walsh said in a press release.

The city’s dining establishments are already subject to inspections twice a year, and reports are already available online. But the letter grading system—with similar programs in place already in New York City and Los Angeles—adds “an extra layer of transparency and accountability,” Walsh said.

The grades will be calculated by subtracting a certain number of points from an overall score of 100, based on three different categories. Foodborne critical violations will cost 10 points, non-foodborne critical violations are 7 points, and non-critical violations are 2 points. Possible grades are A (94-100 points), B (81-93), and C (less than 81). If a restaurant doesn’t earn an A grade, it will be re-inspected within 30 days. Restaurants will also have the chance to fix problems as they come up, the city says, and inspectors will adjust the score to reflect the most up-to-date situation. There will be a fee if a restaurant requests more than one re-inspection, and businesses will be fined $300 for failure to post their grade.

The Inspectional Services Department got feedback from the Massachusetts Restaurant Association as it was developing this program, and the regulators will continue to work with the non-profit food service industry association as it full implements the letter grading system, the city says.

“Food safety is every restaurant operators’ first priority,” said Bob Luz, president and CEO of the MRA. “A health inspection represents a single snapshot in time and there will need to be an educational component to the dining public in regards to this new system. We are thankful to the City for engaging in a thoughtful dialogue and exchanging of ideas to address the concerns that undoubtedly will arise as a result of changing to a letter grading system.”