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Thousands of DOH Letter Grades Improved Through Appeal System

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Sometimes, a short hearing is all it takes to go from a B to an A.

For restaurant owners, a B or C letter grade can cost thousands of dollars in lost business and fines. But, more and more, owners are appealing those bad grades with good results. Between January 2013 and April 2014, more than 13,000 grade inspections were appealed and around 7,000 resulted in a better grade, reports The New York World.

Approximately 140 appeals are heard daily in health tribunals by the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings. Here, restaurant owners can explain their side of the story and health inspectors rarely attend — leaving restaurants with the upper hand. The proceedings are often short, and sometimes an apology is enough to improve a grade. Some of the most commonly dismissed violations include failing to store food at the right temperature, improper storage, and conditions "conducive to vermin."

Health inspectors have been accused of doling out bad grades to help bring in fines, benefiting the city and often helping them advance professionally. In 2012, at the height of fines, the city made $52 million. Early last year, a new DOH commissioner, made some changes, and fines are now down 25 percent and judges can no longer change the fine amount if they uphold a violation. There's also a new bill being considered that would aim to further reduce violations.

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