“When I go to a restaurant, I’m worried about problems that cause illness,” Eierman said. “Cross-contamination, proper holding temperatures — things like that.”
But for diners who want to know how an establishment performs on health inspections, accessing that information often involves visiting their local health district’s website and potentially navigating archaic or confusing records systems — if the records are available at all.
Eierman hopes to make it easier for consumers to access that restaurant inspection information. Three weeks ago, he and his colleagues released HDScores, an iPhone app that shows health inspection scores for restaurants and other food establishments on a map.
Eierman likens it to Zillow or Yelp, but specifically for restaurant health inspections. The app displays a map of the user’s area and shows a percentage score for each establishment, based on HDScores’ own scoring algorithm.
The algorithm places an emphasis on cleanliness and factors related to foodborne illness, focusing less on issues unrelated to contamination. As a result, Eierman said it’s possible for an establishment to score an A on their health inspection but receive a lower score on HDScores, like 75 percent, if they have only a few violations but those violations are directly related to foodborne illness risk.
“The most common violations we see are temperature control problems and failure to wash hands,” Eierman told Food Safety News.
The information on the app is kept up-to-date, too. Users will typically be able to see any new inspection scores within 12-24 hours of the health department’s filing.
So far, the app covers about 500,000 of the 1.5 million establishments nationwide that are subject to health inspections. It includes entire states, such as New York, Pennsylvania and Kansas, as well as major cities such as San Francisco, Chicago and Seattle.
The team plans to add another big chunk of coverage in an upcoming update to reach 45-50 percent of food establishments in the country, covering 60-65 percent of places where the U.S. population resides.
But once they reach that point, progress is expected to slow. One-third of health jurisdictions in the U.S. still operate on paper-only records systems. Scanning and digitizing those data would be a big cost hurdle.
“For example, I’m in Maryland and it’s a data desert here,” Eierman said.
He added that it helps to have multiple companies — including Yelp — working to get more accessible data to consumers. He hopes that soon enough the demand for data will drive the remaining health jurisdictions to digitize their records or make them more easily available.
For now, the team is focused on releasing an Android version of the app and a web browser service.
Below is a map of all the areas currently covered by HDScores:© Food Safety News