Thursday, October 8, 2009

Restaurant Inspections: Does Publishing The Results Do Any Good?

October 8, 2009

On our recent trip to San Francisco, my husband and I stayed at the Union Street Inn, a Bed and Breakfast located in the Cow Hollow district. We chose the Inn based on its excellent reviews on

When we presented ourselves at breakfast the morning after we arrived, I was delighted to see that the Inn had achieved a score of 100% on its most recent food service inspection. But – even though I am a food safety microbiologist – it hadn't occurred to me to look into the food inspection history of the Inn before we made our reservation.

Most cities and counties in the developed countries carry out some form of routine restaurant inspection. Many local health departments post these inspection results on their web sites. Some jurisdictions – San Diego, Los Angeles and many counties in the United Kingdom, for example – go farther, and require that restaurants post their most recent inspection score on or near the front door (known as "Scores on Doors"). And a few agencies – including New South Wales, Australia – take the "Name and Shame" approach, publishing the names of food establishments that fail inspection.

Surprisingly, San Francisco does not require its restaurants to post their inspection scores. Instead, consumers must visit the web site of the San Francisco Department of Public Health to learn how their favorite restaurants stack up.

We stopped in at The Real Food Company, a local market and deli, for a snack one day.

I was favorably impressed with the care taken by a store employee in handling raw poultry as he loaded it into the rotisserie.

According to the San Francisco Department of Public Health, the store was inspected on September 3rd, just a few days before our visit. Real Food received an "A" rating, with a score of 90 points (out of 100). A score of 89 points would have meant a "B" rating. The inspector noted three violations – two "moderate risk" and one "low risk."

There has been a lot of on-line discussion recently on various food safety blogs about restaurant sanitation, "Scores on Doors" programs, and other food service issues. BarfBlog, in the United States and Le Blog d'Albert Amgar in France are both regular and responsible contributors to this topic.

I wonder, though, how many people take notice of restaurant inspection reports? Does anybody care?

It's time for an eFoodAlert survey

Question #1: Is there a "Scores on Doors" program where you live? If so, have you ever decided not to eat at a restaurant because of a low inspection score (less than an "A")?
Question #2: Have you ever checked a restaurant's inspection score on-line either before or after eating there?
Question #3: Have you or a family member ever become ill after eating a meal at a restaurant? If so, please describe the circumstances.
Question #4: What – if anything – do you think your local health department should do to make the public aware of restaurant inspection results?

I want to hear from you. Please either post your comments below or email them to me (click on my Profile to find my email address). I'll consolidate and post your replies in a follow-up to this article.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Phyllis,

    Thank you for this article.

    #1 I wasn't aware we had a "name and shame" policy here in NSW Australia, and there are several restaurants on the list in my local area.

    #2 I don't think I would be very likely to check online before going to a restaurant. I suppose I would avoid restaurants if I knew they were on the list.

    #3 My worst food experience was about 15 years ago in a Chinese restaurant in Sydney, when both I and a friend suffered food poisoning from Campylobacter in undercooked and reheated duck. It wasn't until a few days later that I was taken ill, and I didn't make the connection between the duck and my illness. My friend however just happened to be a microbiologist, and was quick to identify and report the problem to the relevant authorities.

    #4 I think they should flag restaurants with major problems rather than list every minor infraction. I don't think a couple of cockroaches in a tropical climate is really much to worry about!

    Best wishes,


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