Red-yellow-green disclosure in London (Ontario, Canada)

In February 2010, Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) launched its DineSafe website as a way to provide up-to-date information about the results of inspections conducted anywhere food is sold.

dinesafe-middlesex-london-is-coming-signSean Meyer of London Community News writes that recently, the website was upgraded so it could indicate — in real time — the color of the DineSafe placard currently posted at restaurants, cafeterias, grocery and convenience stores across the city. The changes linked these two components of MLHU’s food inspection disclosure program.

While DineSafe functionality has increased, the data it is sharing is still generated by on-site inspections provided by the 12 public health inspectors working for MLHU’s food safety program.

David Pavletic has been with MLHU for 12 years, the first 10 as a public health inspector and the past couple as manager of environmental health.

Pavletic said he believes MLHU is doing a good job in making the inspection summaries available to the residents of London and Middlesex County.

“There is a lot of public interest expressed in having those inspection results made available,” Pavletic said. “Having the website and a very visible posting system at the food premises is serving that purpose of getting the information out.”

For the most part, Pavletic said, Middlesex and London have a high percentage of green pass signs. However, he adds that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t keep their eyes open.

“Just because there is a green pass sign it doesn’t mean everything is perfectly compliant,” Pavletic said. “There may be infractions noted when there is a green pass issued, the terminology we use is substantial compliance, but it doesn’t mean there was a perfect score.”

Visit the DineSafe website at for more information.

‘I stopped eating at B about a year ago: Jon Stewart on NYC restaurant inspection grades

Philip K. Howard, author of The Rule of Nobody, was a guest on Monday’s The Daily Show.

philip.k.howard.lawyersSaid Howard: “Out of the history of the universe, has anyone accomplished something by following a rule? They role up their sleeves, they take responsibility, they figure out what the resources are to take care of the VA, and the do the best job and they report.”

Jon Stewart: “I don’t know what you need to get an A, B, C, or D, but I stopped eating at Bs about a year ago. It feels like it’s working. It feels like a bureaucratic standard that has set some standards to achieve, and has done it. It’s simple and it’s the alphabet. Lord knows I love the alphabet.”

Howard: “It’s important that law be comprehensible. And it’s important that people in charge of law be able to exercise their responsibility in determining whether a restaurant meets sanitary codes and such and they give it a letter grade and the public can see it has a letter grade and the public can make a judgment.”

Provide information, let people make their own choices (but don’t expect everyone else to clean up your mess when you make a bad choice).

Doh; voluntary grades provide no incentive; Aussie restaurants regret scores on doors

Port Stephens restaurateurs have voted with their feet in rejecting the New South Wales Food Authority’s Score on Doors food safety campaign.

Scores on Doors is a volunteer star-rating system given to food outlets to display in store following routine food safety inspections.

According to the Port Stephens Examiner, the town signed up in October 2011 to be part of a state-wide trial of the program, with a staff report homer-dohstating it was an opportunity to “improve consistency of inspections and outcomes for food businesses”.

However, more than a year later the program has been dubbed a failure, with only 10 food outlets out of 338 within the Port Stephens Local Government Area signing up.

Matthew Brown, the council’s development assessment manager, wrote in a report to councilors, “It is the opinion of the environmental health team that the lack of interest from food business proprietors is due mainly to the initiative being a non-compulsory trial [and] participating voluntarily could potentially result in an unsatisfactory rating that they had no choice but to display to the public.”

One business supportive of the plan was Medowie Macadamias, which received a five-star rating, the highest available.

Owner Scott Leech said it was hard to understand why businesses would not support the plan.

“I think it’s a great idea, I really do. If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to worry about,” he said.

Money or safety? Restaurant inspection outrage in NYC

Restaurant owners are pissed.

According to data from the New York City Health Department, cited by the New York Post, most fines issued over the past two fiscal years — 65.7 percent so far this year and 66.7 percent last year — are for breaches unrelated to food quality (maybe they mean safety – dp), according to stats obtained by The Post.

For instance, 11.5 percent of the 273,999 fines issued in fiscal year 2012 and 12.1 percent of the 198,779 given out so far this fiscal year were written for, ceilings and equipment being poorly maintained.

Another 11.5 percent so far this year and 11.2 percent last year were issued to restaurants being inadequately vermin-proof.

Fines for sanitary conditions, which include mice sightings and dirty and greasy food-contact surfaces, totaled about 14 percent both this year and last year.

The largest number of fines — 29.8 percent of this year’s total and 31.9 percent last year — are categorized as “all others,” which two leading restaurant advocates say are almost entirely unrelated to food.

“Many of them are non-food related — dimly lit light bulbs, not having the proper documentation to show that a product has no trans fats in it,” said Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, which represents nearly 1,000 restaurants and bars. “I don’t think many people would consider that directly related to food.”

Inspectors can only inspect to the code they’re given.

Other common fines unrelated to food quality include bathrooms running out of paper products, cracked tiles, dirty aprons — even scratched cutting boards, Rigie said.

All of those count, for various microbiological reasons.

Robert Bookman, lawyer for the alliance, contends the Health Department issues these summonses to generate money for the city’s coffers. The amounts of fines vary widely.

“It’s just revenue generation. There aren’t enough serious violations,” Bookman said.

Now, reports Grub Street via  Bloomberg, 40 Bronx restaurant owners filed a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court today that alleges they received unjust treatment from fine-happy Health Department inspectors. The coalition of owners say they have been unable to keep up with an “arbitrary, capricious and malicious enforcement of the health code” and insist they are targeted by city employees who haven’t even been properly trained. The group seeks $150 million in damages and a stay of all fines incurred through the inspections. Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the city’s Law department released a statement calling the suit a “rambling, scattershot attack on the city’s regulation of food service establishments” and promises it will be “quickly rejected by the courts.”

The best restaurants, farmers, retailers, whoever, will go above and beyond government standards and brag about them.

‘Score-on-the-door’ food hygiene rating for SA cafes and restaurants

The state of South Australia is introducing a new “score-on-the-door” food hygiene safety rating for cafes and restaurants as the State Government overhauls the Public Health Act.

Scores on doors sounds better.

Adelaide Now reports the Government wants food businesses to adopt the system, with a score out of five displayed on a shop’s door according to its level of food-safety scores_doors_featurecompliance.

It is also planning to adopt a new statewide food safety standard and introduce a registration system for food outlets as part of the reforms.

Hundreds of outlets are caught each year for serious breaches of food hygiene standards.

Health inspectors found rotten meat, maggots in chicken stuffing, puddings with listeria and mice in pantries at cafes, restaurants and takeaway food outlets last financial year.

A parliamentary committee investigation into food safety programs last September recommended the introduction of a statewide score-on-the-door rating system.

Health Minister Jack Snelling said SA Health would work with other jurisdictions, including NSW and with local government and industry, during the development of the system.

A pilot “scores on doors” project is expected to be introduced on a voluntary basis next year. Similar schemes are running in London, Los Angeles, Singapore, Brisbane and Sydney.

But the best ones, like Los Angeles, New York City and Toronto are not voluntary; sorta defeats the purpose.

The Restaurant and Catering SA association said the score system would mean more red tape to businesses. “We would prefer to see a policy which endorses training of staff (in safety),” chief executive Sally Neville said.

Why not both?

We have some experience with restaurant inspection disclosure systems.

Filion, K. and Powell, D.A. 2009. The use of restaurant inspection disclosure systems as a means of communicating food safety information. Journal of Foodservice 20: 287-297.

The World Health Organization estimates that up to 30% of individuals in developed countries become ill from food or water each year. Up to 70% of these illnesses are estimated to be linked to food prepared at foodservice establishments. Consumer confidence in the safety of food prepared in restaurants isfragile, varying significantly from year to year, with many consumers attributing foodborne illness to foodservice. One of the key drivers of restaurant choice is consumer perception of the hygiene of a restaurant. Restaurant hygiene information is something consumers desire, and when available, may use to make dining decisions.

Filion, K. and Powell, D.A. 2011. Designing a national restaurant inspection disclosure system for New Zealand.
Journal of Food Protection 74(11): 1869-1874

The World Health Organization estimates that up to 30% of individuals in developed countries become ill from contaminated food or water each year, and up to 70% of these illnesses are estimated to be linked to food service facilities. The aim of restaurant inspections is to reduce foodborne outbreaks and enhance consumer confidence in food service. Inspection disclosure systems have been developed as tools for consumers and incentives for food service operators. Disclosure systems are common in developed ny_rest_inspect_disclosure_0_storycountries but are inconsistently used, possibly because previous research has not determined the best format for disclosing inspection results. This study was conducted to develop a consistent, compelling, and trusted inspection disclosure system for New Zealand. Existing international and national disclosure systems were evaluated. Two cards, a letter grade (A, B, C, or F) and a gauge (speedometer style), were designed to represent a restaurant’s inspection result and were provided to 371 premises in six districts for 3 months. Operators (n = 269) and consumers (n = 991) were interviewed to determine which card design best communicated inspection results. Less than half of the consumers noticed cards before entering the premises; these data indicated that the letter attracted more initial attention (78%) than the gauge (45%). Fifty-eight percent (38) of the operators with the gauge preferred the letter; and 79% (47) of the operators with letter preferred the letter. Eighty-eight percent (133) of the consumers in gauge districts preferred the letter, and 72% (161) of those in letter districts preferring the letter. Based on these data, the letter method was recommended for a national disclosure system for New Zealand.

New DineSafe iPhone app makes Toronto inspection data more accessible

A local developer named Matthew Ruten has, according to the Torontoist, found a way of making DineSafe information even more accessible: using the City’s open data, he’s created an iPhone app that lets users view the health-inspection histories of whatever restaurants happen to be near them.

The app, which is called “Dinesafe,” has been available in Apple’s app store for 99 cents since last week. It uses the iPhone’s GPS capabilities to spit out information on whatever restaurants happen to be closest.

The app displays restaurant names and addresses next to handy colour-coded graphics that let a user know, at a glance, how often each place has run afoul of inspectors. (Just as on the official DineSafe website, green is good, yellow not so good, and red the worst.) Flicking through the different restaurant profiles is more or less what reading Yelp would be like, if all Yelp reviews were written by bureaucrats.

Ruten wrote in an email, “The DineSafe signs that you see in the windows of restaurants don’t give you any idea how that restaurant has performed historically, so this app makes that information available.”

Forget letter grades in NY; QR codes next wave

New Yorkers will soon be able to learn if a restaurant is rat-infested or stores its food at unsafe temperatures with a wave of their cell phones — but they may have to do some legwork first.

A bill passed by the City Council Monday will require restaurants and other businesses regulated by the Health Department to post a “quick response” code by next year that can be scanned with a smartphone to pull up instant information about the business.

But the bar codes won’t be on the letter grades posted in restaurant windows. They’ll be inside, on permits that are often posted behind the bar.

Putting them on letter grades would cost more since it would mean printing the grades individually for each restaurant, but Council Speaker Christine Quinn said she’d like to eventually put codes in the window.

Grub Street asks, how many New Yorkers know, for example, what makes a “improperly constructed or located” food surface into a critical violation, anyhow? 

Ontario, Hawaii, Pittsburgh take separate paths to restaurant inspection postings

Hamilton, Ontario, has approved a move to the red-yellow-green restaurant inspection display system initiated by Toronto.

Pittsburgh has decided to reactivate a Board of Health committee charged with developing a cleanliness rating system for restaurants in Allegheny County, one year after board members reversed themselves by scrapping an approved grading proposal following an outcry from prominent local restaurant owners who objected to posting scores on their doors.

Hawaii is working on a new placard system designed to let people know how clean restaurants are, also based on the red-yellow-green system.

“Customers love it. You can look at a glance and see if it’s a red, green or yellow and then make your choice on whether you want to eat there or not,” said Tom Frigge, TOBE Co. Food Safety, a private company that teaches food safety classes and helps restaurants maintain safe operations.

That’s because, who wants to be the politician who says, no, you can’t have that information. Disclosure systems are inevitable. The challenge is to make them meaningful.

5 years of red-yellow-green inspection grades in Sacramento County

Social embarrassment works on a number of levels: Scarlett letters, verbal putdowns, passing gas. Even stickers of shame, the New York City practice of slapping a neon yellow sticker along with a $65 fine on cars that illegally block street cleaners. According to the New York Times, the fine is largely irrelevant, it’s the embarrassing – and difficult to remove — stickers that is fueling city council’s move to end the 25-year-old practice.

With food safety, social embarrassment is an effective tool to increase awareness of issues: iPhones recordings of dancing mice, restaurant inspection grades, making people barf and hearing all about it.

How to measure effectiveness remains problematic.

Five years ago, Sacramento County in California launched a green-yellow-red food facility rating program, about 10 years after Toronto in Canada launched a red-yellow-green restaurant inspection disclosure program.

Val Siebal, director of the Environmental Management Department, said that since the program began, food facilities receiving a green or “Pass” placard increased from 88 to 94 percent. At the same time, major health risk violations that could potentially cause foodborne illness have decreased. Restaurants are inspected three times a year and other food facilities twice a year. Routine inspections are unannounced.

“The program has been well-received by food facility owners and operators, and is popular with restaurant patrons. The color-coded placards give consumers an instant message about the establishment’s food safety inspection record and compliance with State and local food safety laws,” said Siebal.

A food inspection results website and smart phone apps were recently made available. Visit with your smart phone or tablet and view the inspection results for food facilities in your immediate area. Free apps can be found in the Android Market and iTunes app stores by searching for ‘Sac Food.’ Visit our mobile web & app page for more information.

The 25-minute “How to Get a Green” training video is available in four languages (English, Spanish, Cantonese, and Vietnamese). It can be viewed online at