Joseph Nathan Cohen

Department of Sociology, CUNY Queens College, New York, NY

Restaurant Violations in NYC, 2022

Which zip codes have the cleanest and dirtiest restaurants?

Food poisoning is a real public health threat. Every year, approximately 48 million people get sick from food poisoning, 128 thousand are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne illnesses. According to estimates published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, about two-thirds of food poisonings occur through restaurants. To keep this threat in check, the City of New York’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene operates a restaurant inspection system that monitors all food vendors – from street trucks to five-star restaurants – regularly, and their grades must be posted publicly. A vendor with too many violations, or violations that are too serious, will be shut down. The system tries to safeguard the public from restauranteurs who do not take food safety seriously, and allows consumers to weigh food safety when choosing restaurants.

This analysis looks for patterns in food safety by geographic area. It asks whether there are neighborhoods in which food safety seems generally more or less safe than others. In terms of geography, there is no immediately obvious pattern, except perhaps that inspection failures might be more infrequent in low-density areas. This may be partly due to lower rates of rodent infestation, which is a major source of problems in New York City. Further analysis is required before being able discern finer differences.

It should be noted: Readers should avoid the ecological fallacy of assuming that general patterns observed in neighorhoods apply to all restaurants in that area. Restaurants are rated individually, and should be judged as such. If anything, an “A” rating in a generally “C” neighborhood or cuisine is a gem that stands out from its peers.


The analysis uses violations data collected by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygeine, and distributed by NYC Open Data. In this analysis, we will look at all restaurants that were inspected at least once in 2022. Our analysis will focus on every restaurant’s lowest overall grade for that year. Restaurants are evaluated on a demerit points system, described here.1


Below, we examine geographic patterns in both high- and low-scoring restaurants.

C-Grade Restaurants

Which zipcodes have the highest proportion of “C” rated restaurants, relative to their overall restaurant population? We only consider zip codes with at least 10 inspections. Note that we have top-coded the proportions at 30% to improve legibility. These outliers are described below:

I could find no immediate patterns in the map, except that the incidence of C-grades is low in parts of the city that I know to be lower density, at least for the most part. First, consider Table 1 (below), which describes the zip codes in which C grades were most common:

NeighborhoodBoroughZipcodeN% C Grade
Fresh MeadowsQueens11366440.3056
South Richmond HillQueens11419770.3056
East HarlemManhattan10035660.3
Springfield GardensQueens11413440.2973
Borough ParkBrooklyn11219900.2857
Table 1: Zip Codes with Most Common C Grades

I could not immediately discern a pattern here. The offending neighborhoods are spread across boroughs, and include zip codes that I know to be higher and lower income. Interestingly, the third-worst zip code in New York is just outside of Queens College campus. Make of that what you will.

NeighborhoodBoroughZipcodeN% C Grade
TottenvilleStaten Island10307250.0000
Princes BayStaten Island10309640.0317
Rockaway ParkQueens11694300.0357
Cambria HeightsQueens11411180.0588
East New YorkBrooklyn11239170.0625
Table 2: Zip Codes with Least C-Grades

From these figures, and across the least-offending neighborhoods, the only pattern that I could discern was that there was a plurality of neighborhoods that I know to be low-density, for example the neighborhoods in Staten Islands, around the Rockaways, and in the uppermost reaches of the Bronx. One reason that this pattern could exist is that these neighbhorhoods might be lower density, which may cause a lower incident of rodent infestations. Along with improper temperature storage, rodent infestation is a leading cause of restaurant violations in the city.

Most A-Grade Restaurants

Note that the proportions on this figure are top-coded at 80%, with outliers described in the table below.

Table 3 (below) describes the zip codes with the highest incidence of “A” grades.

BoroughNeighborhoodzipcodeN% A Grade
QueensJamaica Estates11430520.9019608
ManhattanGarment District10118100.8888889
QueensFar Rockaway / Arverne11693230.8636364
BronxCity Island / Fordham10464290.8518519
QueensEast Elmhurst11370190.8333333
ManhattanRockefeller Center / Diamond10020290.8214286
QueensRockaway Peninsula11694300.8214286
BrooklynBrownsville / Ocean Hill / E.11239170.8125000
Table 3: Most “A” Grades

The main pattern observable to the naked eye is proximity to airports and low population density. Airports have many restaurants, and are surrounded by hotels with in-house or nearby restaurants. I speculate that these areas are likely to have many restaurants set in high-quality facilities.

Table 4 (below) describes the zipcodes with the lowest incidence of “A” grades.

NeighborhoodBoroughZipcodeN% A Grade
Upper East SideManhattan10128910.4217
Queens VillageQueens11428310.4286
Battery Park CityManhattan10280220.4737
South Richmond HillQueens11419770.4861
Table 4: Fewest “A” Grades

Some of the same neighborhoods appear in Table 1, which depicted the highest incidence of failing grades: Harlem, South Richmond Hill, and Canarsie. Aside from these high-offending areas, there appears to be a mixutre of neighborhoods.


This analysis sough geographic patterns in the distribution of high and low grades in restaurant inspections. The data did not give us many clear and decisive guidelines about neighborhoods that are safe or unsafe for dining. It did suggest that dining might be safer around airports, which may be driven by high cleanliness scores in airports and hotels. In terms of unsafe areas, it seems that risk is spread across boroughs, and can occur in higher- and lower-income areas. It may be safer in lower density areas that are further from the city center, which may be due to fewer rodent problems. Further research is required for these speculations to be confirmed. The data do suggest that many restaurants fare poorly in Harlem, South Richmond Hill, or Canarsie, though this analysis does not discern why these problems exist.

  1. I am grateful for Seth Mandel’s help in finding these documents.↩︎

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