Most of us already know that food establishments are inspected regularly by local health authorities to be sure they are clean and serving food that is safe for consumers to eat.
How do you know what the results of those inspections are?
Detective Foodsafe® is thrilled to help us all learn ways we can reduce the likelihood that we will eat food that is contaminated or has suffered time and temperature abuse when we eat in restaurants.
Fortunately, technology is making it easier to uncover exactly how safe food service kitchens are by making health inspection results available to us all simply by going online!
Unfortunately, few people look for this type of information before they eat out. They may look for violations after they have dined somewhere and gotten sick – but then it is too late!
Detective Foodsafe encourages consumers to search before you eat for not just restaurant reviews, but also for inspection reports that can alert you to find a safer place to eat before you become a victim.
Online Food Safety Results
Clicking to find the results of sanitation inspections is as easy as finding a restaurant “near me” and might help you prevent food poisoning.
Local public health authorities regularly inspect restaurants and post their results online.
Many, but not all, states make this information available online using locators. The hope is that all states will provide this information online so that consumers can make informed choices about where to eat for their own well-being.
Here is a list of states with locators for their health inspections:
These states have some reporting counties but no statewide locator:
Arizona – only 4 counties post results
California – 36 of 58 counties post results
Colorado – 16 of 64 counties post results
Connecticut — “Restaurant inspections are conducted by Local Health Departments in CT and there is no requirement to publish them online.”
Illinois – 10 of 102 counties post results
Indiana – 6 of 92 counties post results
Kentucky – 44 counties post results
Maine – 1 county posts results
Maryland –1 county posts results
Massachusetts — 1 county posts results
Missouri –25 counties post results
Nebraska — 1 county posts results
Nevada — 1 health district posts results
New Hampshire –1 county posts results
New Jersey – 15 counties or townships post results
New Mexico — 1 county posts results
New York – 6 counties post results
North Dakota — 1 county posts results
Ohio – 16 counties post results
South Dakota — 1 county posts results
Texas – 13 counties post results
Utah – 4 counties post results
West Virginia – 12 counties post results
Wisconsin – 5 counties post results
Here is a map that represents each state’s percentage of the population covered by online health department agencies.
You can see that some states are much better at presenting health and safety information that the public can use to protect their own health.
Encourage Your State to Do More
It seems that only 26 states are doing what some suggest is the bare minimum to inform the public about their own health and safety. Studies have shown that when there is information with which to make informed choices, consumers will use it to their benefit.
Disclosing inspection results not only makes consumers aware, but forces restaurants to earn trust and work better towards food safety. Think of a letter grade as a negative advertisement for restaurants that get repeated violations for unsanitary conditions.
One example of transparency is when New York City posted health grades in restaurants, salmonella infections were reduced.
What Consumers Can Do
Consumers should be aware that food inspections are available for us to read. Many (but not yet all) are available at the touch of a button on our technology devices in the same way that reviews are.
We should be looking at them and holding restaurants accountable through our patronage for practicing safe food handling.
It is also important to remember that each inspection is just a moment in time. If a restaurant was inspected six months ago, it may be better or worse when you visit now.
Detective Foodsafe knows that sometimes it is hard to know exactly how clean the restaurant is or how the kitchen staff safely handle your food because food inspection grades visible in the window may not detail the actual violations. There are different methods in place to tell us how a restaurant did.
What Inspection Reports Mean
Dining grades are given based on the number or severity of the violation found during a health inspection. You can ask each restaurant to see the full report or request it from the health department if you have a specific concern.
Consumers need to learn about what is and isn’t included on a health report. Hand washing practices, presence of pests, food holding temperatures, food storage, facility sanitation and even the cleanliness of bathrooms are reviewed during inspections.
Letter grades are generally used with each violation resulting in a lower grade. Some states are moving to a red-yellow-green light system that shows consumers to use caution when choosing a restaurant in a more recognizable iconic way.
Other locales use smiley faces to represent how many violations a restaurant receives. A happy face signals better food safety practices.
Inspection Data Should Be Accessible by All
Health and safety inspections are data in the public record and should be available to you. These locators can be viewed on smartphones so the information is at your fingertips when you are deciding where to eat.
There are also numerous apps for different states or cities, such as New York City, but they are not often up to date and have a history of being hard to use. You may find the state locators more reliable.
Having a transparent system that allows consumers to easily access this information makes dining out safer for us all and puts restaurants on notice that we expect safe food and sanitary conditions.