EDITORIAL: About our health codes story

Times/Review Newsgroup’s editorial department didn’t take lightly the decision to review health reports from restaurants and other eateries from Orient to Mount Sinai — about 500 in all that are subject to regular inspections — and publish our findings in stories in The Suffolk Times and Riverhead News-Review newspapers and websites, as well as on Northshoresun.com. Many of these businesses are owned and operated by friends and neighbors who not only work in but also live in our communities.

During the reporting process, as we reached out to restaurant owners, we continued to hear what we considered to be a fair question: Why would a local news organization do a story that could harm local businesses?

From the moment we set out to do these stories, our intent was never to harm the very businesses that help form the backbone of our local economies. But it is, and always has been, our mission to print articles that are compelling and informing to our readers. We believe our readership is interested in learning about heath code violations at restaurants where they eat. Many readers, like the reporters and editors who worked on these stories, likely had not known such health reports were regularly published online.

But please keep in mind, the stories we have written provide only a snapshot of what has gone on in the restaurants as of late. The health department’s online list is constantly changing as new inspection reports are posted and old ones are expunged. An inspector may catch great restaurants on a bad day, and not-so-tidy ones on a good day.

We also found in our reporting that public health reports should not be taken as gospel.

For example, one of the published reports indicated a Riverhead restaurant was “in litigation” with the health department over alleged violations, which would mean the county has not been able to compel the establishment to conform to standards, either through training or repeat inspections. But that was posted in error and the report has since been corrected online. In another case, a Miller Place coffee shop’s listed violations came from an inspection report done during its prior ownership. In still another case, a Southold pizzeria’s inspection shouldn’t have been posted at all. The county has since removed that report from its website.

We would urge all potential patrons to call restaurant’s owners with any concerns, as many of the business owners we spoke to had sound explanations for why violations had occurred.

Despite flaws in the health department’s online system, this editorial staff and most restaurateurs interviewed agree the policy of publicly posting inspection reports, especially from repeat offenders, is an effective tool in keeping all kitchens in Suffolk County clean and preventing food-borne illnesses.

Holding restaurants to the highest standards will only serve to strengthen our local economy.