News 4 uncovered eye opening information about restaurants in Western New York. The investigation began based on the question: how do you know if your favorite restaurant is safe?
Investigator Producer Rose Ciotta explained, “New York City has a letter grade system, so we were curious about what happens in Erie County, what happens in Western New York.”
Counties have to inspect restaurants as a matter of public safety, but getting that information to the public is another matter.
“We quickly determined that Erie County is the only county in the state where its inspection reports are not available online,” Ciotta said.
The News 4 Investigates team went to work and contacted Erie County, only to hit a roadblock.
“One of the biggest challenges was getting the information,” Ciotta said. “We were surprised at how long that took at the very beginning.”
County officials gave an initial estimate that it would take six months to gather the information.
“We did have to invoke the law and even had to get our lawyers involved. That just seemed way too long for information that is public,” Ciotta said.
After finally getting the information, their work was far from finished.
“We’re talking about tens of thousands of records. Because Erie County has over 3,000 restaurants. Niagara County has over 900. And then there’s the whole rest of the counties in Western New York,” Ciotta explained.
Software helped sort through the records.
Ciotta said, “It became a very important tool and looking at the data and working with it we were able to determine which restaurants had the highest number of critical violations and non-critical violations in Erie County and Niagara County and those are the restaurants that we spotlight in our report.”