Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Do You Smell a Rat?

Restaurant closures have more than tripled in the weeks after local news showed rats running wild inside a KFC/Taco Bell. According to figures in various news reports at least 250-300 restaurants have been shuttered in the two months following the rat report. Want to guess who’s ultimately picking up the tab for those closures?

“It easily has cost restaurants several million dollars,” Chuck Hunt of the New York Restaurant Association, told reporters. You can add to that lost wages for hourly workers, food spoilage and lost tax revenues for the city. The Department of Health issued a report last month on the KFC/Taco Bell incident, but its recommendations only heightened my suspicion that the agency, like most political animals, has no real agenda other than to shield itself from criticism.

In practice, the city's health inspectors have obviously been given a directive, either implicitly or explicitly, to send a message by closing more restaurants. That message seems to be: you make us look bad, watch out. But ultimately it makes no sense to respond to a problem that was admittedly enabled by bureaucratic incompetence with an even greater display of bureaucratic incompetence. Look at this way: the public witnessed a restaurant it knew to be filthy stay open until it was literally overrun with rats. That screamed incompetence. Now, we're watching our favorite restaurants, which we believe to be clean, aggressively being closed. Does that not also scream incompetence, if not something more nefarious?

The end result of this food cop reign of terror is nothing more than an unfair "tax" on kitchen laborers, less money in the city’s coffers, hits to their reputations that many restaurants may not recover from--and less confidence among citizens that the Health Department knows what it is doing. The real issue here is not dirty kitchens but dirty government. The proper response from the Health Department to the KFC/Taco Bell incident would have been to concentrate on cleaning up its own filthy house and restoring public confidence. Instead, they're feeding us shit.--F

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