Does food safety inspection disclosure work in the UK? Sortof

The UK Food Standards Agency reports:

The evaluation was commissioned with the Policy Studies Institute in 2011 and ran until mid-2014.  It explored the impact of the FHRS and the FHIS on local authorities, consumers, businesses, food hygiene compliance and the incidence of foodborne disease. The evaluation and other research findings have been discussed by the FSA Board today.

rest.inspection.disclosure.ukIn England, Wales and Northern Ireland businesses are rated from 0 – 5, with 0 being the lowest rating and 5 being the highest. Businesses rated with a 3 or above are considered to be generally satisfactory or better. The FSA recommends consumers choose to eat in these ‘compliant’ establishments.

These final reports provide evidence that the FHRS had a positive impact on business compliance levels. These showed that there was a significant increase in ‘broad compliance’ (equivalent to ratings of 3 to 5) in the first year, and a significant increase in ‘full compliance’ (rating of 5) in the second year in local authority areas after the FHRS was introduced, compared with areas where the scheme was not yet operating.  There was also a significant decrease in the proportion of businesses with very poor levels of compliance in the first two years after launch.

For Scotland, although the general pattern was the same for FHIS, the changes in compliance levels were not statistically significant.

The reports also include findings on consumer views about the scheme and provide some interesting insights.  For example, those using the schemes said they were more likely to refer to hygiene information when in an unfamiliar location, or eating with vulnerable people or for special occasions when planning meals out at Christmas or Valentine’s Day.

Cities using social media to police restaurants

While cities like Guelph, Ontario, are being dragged into the age of public disclosure, countries like Singapore have been training and using restaurant patrons as gumshoes for a decade to help public health types identify possible infractions through the use of cell phones (with nifty cameras).

yelpThe U.S. is slowly catching on, using Yelp to check health inspection scores for eateries in San Francisco, Louisville, Kentucky, and several other communities.

Local governments increasingly are turning to social media to alert the public to health violations and to nudge establishments into cleaning up their acts. A few cities are even mining users’ comments to track foodborne illnesses or predict which establishments are likely to have sanitation problems.

“For consumers, posting inspection information on Yelp is a good thing because they’re able to make better, informed decisions about where to eat,” said Michael Luca, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School who specializes in the economics of online businesses. “It also holds restaurants more accountable about cleanliness.”

In recent years, dozens of city and county health departments have been posting restaurant inspection results on government websites to share with the public. Turning to Yelp or other social media, or using crowd-sourced information to increase public awareness, is the next logical step, some officials say.

“Yelp is a window into the restaurant. The restaurateurs don’t want a bad (health) score on Yelp. They’ll be more attentive about getting the restaurants cleaned up and safer,” said Rajiv Bhatia, former environmental health director for the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

“It’s also valuable because it allows the public to see the workings of a government agency, and puts some pressure on the agency to do its job,” said Bhatia, a physician who is now a public health consultant.

restaurant_food_crap_garbage_10The National Restaurant Association, the industry’s trade group, said that while it supports transparency and consumers’ access to information, it worries that because inspection standards differ from city to city, Yelp users might not be familiar with rating terminology and therefore could draw incorrect conclusions.

David Matthews, the association’s general counsel, also said the timing of postings is crucial because restaurants often correct findings and generate different ratings after a re-inspection.

Luther Lowe, Yelp’s director of public policy said putting health scores and inspection results in an accessible place where consumers already are searching for restaurant information makes a lot more sense than “relying on those clunky (health department) dot-gov websites.”


How Canadian: Restaurant food safety reporting needs review in Guelph

According to this editorial, it seems like the Guelph-area public health unit can take extra steps to make the community more aware of food safety issues at local eateries. Public Health’s latest records show it has recently flagged 152 area eateries with food safety violations that could cause food poisoning.

However, unless someone went through the health unit’s posted database for such issues, there would be no public notification surrounding these findings. What’s more, there is no obligation for local eateries to even draw the public’s attention to the existence of recent health unit inspection results, let alone make available, on-site, a report of such findings relating to their food operation.

The health unit touted its present, public food safety inspections database related to local eateries when the online tool was launched in 2013. It suggested the system was a big improvement over what had been in place in this regard. That was true. What it replaced was an opaque system for the public that required requests for the food safety records of eateries to be made to the health unit for its release, on its timing.

However, even when the Check Before You Choose program emerged, it lagged behind best practices elsewhere in the public health field — even in southern Ontario.

barf.o.meter.dec.12Since 2001, Toronto Public Health’s DineSafe has been a leader in this sector. Where the Guelph-area health unit obliges citizens to do their research and dig for potentially concerning restaurant food safety records, the Toronto system makes eateries prominently post the results of the latest health unit inspections on-site. What’s more, the reports are colour coded, so it can be seen at a glance whether an eatery received a pass (green), a yellow report (conditional approval), or a red (closure order) in their latest inspection.

The Toronto system has its critics. Some fault DineSafe as a “name and shame” initiative that may also give a false sense of food safety security to diners. However, DineSafe’s introduction coincided with a period where the rate of food safety compliance jumped at local eateries and stayed higher.

A version of the system has since been adopted in several other regional health unit venues and in other international jurisdictions.

Signs in Seattle: Restaurant inspection disclosure

Dine Safe King County came out of Sarah Schacht’s public advocacy for posted restaurant inspection scores. Her successful petition to King County for posted inspection scores caused King County to start a stakeholder committee process to provide suggestions for restaurant inspection score design and a new rating system. At the end of months on the committee, Sarah was disappointed to find she was the only member of the public on the committee, and saw a need for public feedback on and testing of restaurant inspection scores and signs.

rest.inspec.grade.louisvilleReaching out to University of Washington’s Human Centered Design Department, Sarah recruited graduate students and undergrads in their senior year to leverage their education in user research to implement a usability study/user research study. WSU’s Prof. Susie Craig a specialist in public health, mentored the research team and reviewed their work.

King County, Washington, will implement restaurant inspection score signs in late 2015 to early 2016. This transparency and public health project will be a first in our region, but in other municipal areas, like Toronto, inspection score signs at restaurants have been around for over a decade. Some research suggests these signs bring down overall cases of food poisoning, by as much as 30%.

King County will implement scores by early 2016, with most input of sign design coming from restaurant owners and government employees. We are a group of UW students working to involve a variety of King County residents in the design process of this tool for public health, through the use of a usability study.

Questions or comments about this study? You can contact the team communications lead, Leilani Esther at

Key Report Findings

Key findings from our research are:

  • An average rating isn’t easily understood and raised more questions than it answered.
  • Participants wanted to see the inspection scores and dates that went into determining the average.
  • Participants questioned the value of including older scores, particularly when considering staff turnover and changes in management and/or ownership.
  • Participants stressed that they were most interested in the most recent inspection score.
  • Participants felt that a rating system that used stars looked too much like customer ratings, or some kind of award for the restaurant. It was the least popular in our survey results and focus groups.
  • A pass/fail rating system didn’t provide enough information. Participants wanted to know how much a restaurant passed or failed by.

Participants highlighted the importance of dates regardless of the rating system; of particular importance to them was when the inspection took place and when the rating was posted.

Embarrassing: Guelph eateries not obligated to post health inspection results

Unlike many other cities, Guelph (that’s in Canada) doesn’t require places that serve food to post their health inspection results on their premises. Mercury survey of the 460 food establishments that had health code violations at their most recent inspection found that Public Health Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph flagged 152 eateries for having violations that could cause food poisoning.

These violations included food handlers not washing their hands, toxic substances not being stored separately from food, and food not being refrigerated properly, data from public health’s own website show.

And barely half of those with serious health code violations post a simple sign at their establishment telling people where to find the inspection results online through the health unit’s “Check Before you Choose” database.

Jessica Morris, manager of health protection with Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health, said officials try to use the sign as a “sales pitch” to owners, saying it demonstrates their commitment to food safety. She said the website is very well-frequented.

Morris added eateries with violations that could cause food poisoning are required to correct the problem within 72 hours. If there is an imminent health risk, public health closes the restaurant, which it has done in two cases since 2013. Public Health started posting results of its food safety inspections online in early 2013.

Before that, members of the public would have to contact public health to find out about the food safety record of their favourite diner or coffee shop.

As anyone who has ever spent the day doubled over in the bathroom after a meal can attest, food safety is no joke.

Many communities in Ontario, and around the world, go one step further than Wellington-Dufferin with a pass-fail system that requires restaurants to post their inspection results on their premises.

In Toronto, for example, consumers can easily see how a restaurant has fared on their most recent inspection through a system called DineSafe.

After an inspection, restaurants receive either a green (pass), yellow (conditional pass) or red (closed) sign, which they must post where guests can clearly see it.

A green sign is an easily understood stamp of approval: The food here is safe to eat.

Sylvanus Thompson, associate director at Toronto Public Health, said after the system was introduced in 2001 following a Toronto Star investigation on restaurant inspections, there was a 40 per cent decrease in instances of sporadic food poisoning in the city. said officials can’t conclude the new system definitely caused this decline. But he said data show compliance of food establishments went from around 70 to over 90 per cent with the introduction of DineSafe.

“We know for sure that the yellow was playing a significant role in the increase in compliance,” Thompson said.

“They don’t want to get the yellow. They call it the fear of the yellow.”

A version of the model has been adapted by Peel Region, Durham Region, Halton Region, Hamilton, London, Lambton County, Sacramento County in California, Shanghai in China, and cities in Denmark and Scotland.

For food safety experts such as Doug Powell, a former food safety professor at the University of Guelph and Kansas State University who publishes “barfblog” about food- borne illness, such a change is long overdue.

“For a city that prides itself as the food and agricultural centre of the Canadian universe, their lack of public disclosure is pretty embarrassing I think,” he said, speaking from Brisbane, Australia, where he is now based.

“Toronto figured it out, cities around Toronto figured it out. New York City, Los Angeles have all figured it out,” he said.

New York and Los Angeles take a slightly different approach, making restaurants display letter grades. An “A” means all good, “B” and “C” less so.

Powell laughed when told Guelph eateries still don’t have to post their inspection results on the premises.

He acknowledges systems like DineSafe aren’t perfect. But he said they enhance the conversation about food safety, for both restaurants and the public.

Keith Warriner, a professor of food science at the University of Guelph, said even the best public disclosure systems have issues..

Results can vary according to whether an inspector has a bad day or lacks experience, he said.

More important, said Warriner, is making sure restaurant employees get proper training in food safety.

For Powell, the bottom line should be fewer people getting sick.

“That is the goal of public health and should be the message consistently, and (systems like Dinesafe) are a tool to reduce the number of sick people. Go for it.”

Baltimore restaurants soon forced to post health ratings in window

Critics worry anything less than a perfect health rating will hurt a restaurant’s financial bottom line. But, nonetheless, it appears Baltimore will join a long list of cities already posting health ratings in restaurant windows. out in New York City and you can’t miss the letter grade posted prominently in restaurant windows. Soon, similar reports will be posted right in the window of every Baltimore restaurant, food truck and grocery store.

But instead of an “A,” “B” or “C” grade, Baltimore’s proposed new regulations would label a restaurant’s health ratings as “Excellent,” “Good” or “Fair.”

Dr. Leana Wen is the head of the city’s health department.

Valcourt: “Why is posting a restaurant’s health rating in a window so important?”

Wen: “It will give an additional incentive to restaurants to try even harder to make sure that they’re doing everything possible to be safe and healthy.”

“To characterize one restaurant as slightly better than another–that seems a bit unfair to me,” said Gino Cardinale, City Cafe owner.

Cardinale runs Mount Vernon’s popular City Cafe. He says most restaurants like his have nothing to fear from the ratings, but echoes concerns expressed by the Maryland Restaurant Association, which says the new ratings system may unfairly portray well-run restaurants as less than perfect.


175 principals sick: Brisbane needs to up its food safety

An op-ed by me in this morning’s Brisbane Courier-Mail:

g20.brisbane.14If Brisbane wants to be the world-class city it aspires to be, put aside obsessions with TV cooking shows, with political inanities, with imports and focus on what makes people — such as 175 delegates at a school principals’ conference — sick.

After decades of food safety research, I can conclude anyone who serves, prepares or handles food, in a restaurant, nursing home, day care centre, supermarket or local market needs some basic food safety training. And the results of restaurant and other food service inspections must be made public and mandatory.

Here’s why. Parenting and preparing food are about the only two activities that no longer require some kind of certification in Western countries. To coach little kids ice hockey in Brisbane, which I do, required 16 hours of training. But anyone can serve food.

Cross-contamination, lack of handwashing and improper cooking or holding temperatures are all common themes in food-service related outbreaks — the very same infractions that restaurant operators and employees should be reminded of during training sessions and are judged on during inspections. should be mandatory food handler training, for say, three hours, that could happen in school, on the job, whatever. But training is only the start. Just because you tell someone to wash their hands after using the toilet before they prepare salad for 100 people doesn’t mean it is going to happen; weekly outbreaks of hepatitis A confirm this. There are incentives that can be used to create a culture that values safe food and a work environment that rewards hygienic behaviour.

Next is to verify that training is being translated into safe food handling practices through inspection, which should be public and mandatory.

Brisbane’s star system is voluntary, which means an owner can choose to not display results if they suck. The best cities — Toronto, Los Angeles, New York — have mandatory disclosure.

In the absence of regular media scrutiny, or a reality TV show where camera crews follow an inspector into a place unannounced, how do diners know which of their favourite restaurants are safe?

Cities, counties and states are using a blend of websites and letter or numerical grades on doors, and providing disclosure upon request.

In Denmark, smiley or sad faces are affixed to restaurant windows.

Publicly available grading systems rapidly communicate to diners the potential risk in dining at a particular establishment and restaurants given a lower grade may be more likely to comply with health regulations in the future to prevent lost business.

More importantly, such public displays of information help bolster overall awareness of food safety among staff and the public — people routinely talk about this stuff. The interested public can handle more, not less, information about food safety.

I volunteer at my daughter’s school tuck shop — no inspection, no training — and they’re serving meals to kids. Principals visiting Brisbane, unfortunately, learnt the importance of food safety.

Dr. Douglas Powell is a former professor of food safety at the University of Guelph in Canada and Kansas State University in the U.S., who is now based in Brisbane.

0478 222 221

Public health risk at Canberra’s eateries

The nation’s capital could be more open.

Australian Capital Territory Health’s “name and shame” list reveals that nearly two dozen restaurants, cafes and fast food outlets in the ACT have been hit with fines totalling more than $230,000 for breaches of food safety standards since 2011

See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No EvilThe register only lists eateries found guilty of food offences, and because of investigative, administrative and appeal processes it can take between 18 and 24 months before the date of an offence and the conviction appear on the register. 

Inspections of restaurants, cafes and food stalls have risen in the past three years, increasing from 1994 in 2012 to 2334 last year. 

More than a dozen Canberra restaurants were forced to shut their doors last year because of an immediate public health risk or failing to fix food safety breaches, new figures reveal.

Cockroaches littering the floor, mouldy food stored in a cool room, a floor covered with thick, grey congealed food waste and power points caked in grime and grease: these are just some of the unpalatable images of appalling food standard breaches health inspectors have discovered in restaurant kitchens in Canberra.

ACT Health figures show 14 restaurants were closed last year after being slapped with prohibition orders because of an immediate public health risk or failure to comply with improvement notices. 

There were also 395 improvement notices issued last year, 32 more than 2013 and 101 more than in 2012. 

Improvement notices are issued for less serious breaches. They identify areas of non-compliance and give eatery owners a deadline to rectify the breaches. 

ACT Health said details of the restaurants and breaches were “not able to be provided.”

The ACT government is yet to decide on the details of a possible “scores on doors” food hygiene rating system for restaurants, such as whether it will be compulsory and when it will be introduced. 

We celebrated the year of the sheep – Chinese New Year – with some friends at their house last night after hockey. Yummy.

Jersey officials plan database of restaurant health inspection reports, higher fines for violations


Spurred on by the outbreak of Hepatitis A linked to a food server at Rosa’s Restaurant and Catering, Hamilton Township in New Jersey is taking steps to ensure that every consumer knows just how safe — or unsafe — food establishments are, with an online database of food inspection reports scheduled to go live within the next few months.

jon.stewart.handwashing.2002“Accountability is everything,” township health officer Jeff Plunkett said on Friday. He said a new ordinance is also being drafted to increase fines for health code violations.

The new database will allow customers to simply search for the name of a restaurant to view its health inspection reports, Mayor Kelly Yaede said Friday.

“This is an initiative we’ve been working on for a year,” Yaede said, attributing the concept to one proposed by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee at the 2014 U.S. Conference of Mayors.

“The number one goal of our health office is to maintain the public safety of our residents,” Yaede said. “This tool makes these restaurant inspection reports more readily available to individuals when they’re making a choice of whether they’re going to patronize a restaurant.”

It isn’t clear whether a restaurant’s entire history or recent history of inspection reports will be available, Yaede said.

“As much information as we have that’s accessible will be released to the public,” Yaede said.

The software will hopefully provide an incentive for restaurants to maintain clean bills of health: It could provide a sales boost for the cleanliest establishments and motivation for less cleanly restaurants to fix problems, Yaede said.

“It would be a positive tool for a majority of restaurants in Hamilton to help them promote their business,” Yaede said.

“And if you don’t have a good report? There’s more of a bite in it for enforcement,” Plunkett said.

Name and shame, Vietnam style

Supermarket and residential market food safety inspection results will be open to the public in 2015, Deputy Minister of Health Nguyen Thanh Long said on Wednesday.

Vietnamese. Wedding FeastThe names of food providers that violated food safety regulations and those that adhered to them would be made public to ensure customers’ right to access to safe food, Long said.

In another effort to make food safer in 2015, the Ministry of Health planned a pilot programme, under which ward and commune inspection teams would be placed in Ha Noi and HCM City to examine food suppliers and deal with regulation violators.

“Those sub-district inspection teams will be granted the ability to impose direct fines on the violators,” Long said. “This is a radical idea we are rushing to implement as soon as possible.”