This morning the Health Department kicked off their restaurant inspection letter grading system by presenting the first A grade to a deli in Queens. In a ceremony at Spark's Deli in Long Island City, Commissioner Thomas Farley used the occasion to underscore the egalitarian potential of the grading system. "Whether it’s a neighborhood deli or a pricey dinner house, any food establishment can prepare food safely," said Farley. "Spark's has set an example."

To accompany the letter grade launch, the Health Department also fired up a more user-friendly website, which will update restaurant inspection info on an almost daily basis, instead of weekly. The new site (which doesn't seem to be working this morning!) lets you search letter grades in specific ZIP codes, by boroughs and by dates of inspection. There are also maps, Google street views, and the option to search the sanitary grades according to the type of cuisine.

Under the new initiative, which was contested by the restaurant industry, restaurants with A grades will be inspected annually, but those receiving lower marks will get more frequent visits. According to the Heath Department, "a restaurant receiving 0 to 13 violation points on an initial inspection will receive a grade of A, which must be posted immediately. Restaurants with more points will get a chance to improve their scores on a re-inspection conducted a short time later. Those scoring 14 to 27 points on the re-inspection will get a B, and those with 28 or more will receive a C... The City will inspect restaurants with B or C grades more often than those receiving A’s... If a restaurant wants to contest violations, it can post a 'Grading Pending' sign until it has had a chance to be heard at a Health Department hearing."