Restaurant inspection disclosure sucks in Maryland

Foodies wanting to know how clean their favorite restaurant is must file public records requests in Wicomico County.

For several years, the health department has sought to change that by posting details of restaurant inspections online. But budget cuts, combined with opposition from restaurant owners, have made that an elusive goal, said Stuart White, supervisor of community health in the environmental health division.

"I think it would promote better practices. You’d want a better grade if it would be posted," White said.

A growing number of health departments across the U.S. are initiating programs aimed at improving the transparency of restaurant inspections, said Robert Pestronk, executive director of the National Association of County and City Health Officials. He said many health departments are putting information online, and others are placing scores — in the form of letter grades, numerical scores or color-coded decals — in plain sight at restaurants.

"It really makes the public part of the inspection work force," he said.

A study in June’s Journal of Food Protection suggests cross-contamination violations — which can lead to illnesses — may be more widespread than previously thought, and they may occur more frequently during peak hours.

Researchers from North Carolina State University used video cameras to monitor 47 food handlers at eight volunteering kitchens and found that the workers committed an average of one cross-contamination violation an hour.

"It really changes how we think about training," said Ben Chapman, the lead author of the study and assistant professor and food safety specialist in the Department of 4-H Youth Development and Family & Consumer Sciences at NCSU. Researchers from Kansas State University and the University of Guelph in Ontario co-wrote the study.