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Health district launches portal for restaurant inspection reports

The portal is a little cranky, and there are no bells and whistles, but restaurant inspection reports are now available online for Washington State’s third-largest county.

The independent Snohomish Health District has made about 5,000 reports available, going back to June 2016. The special purpose district does health inspections in Snohomish County located on Puget Sound north of Seattle.

The Snohomish Health District’s inspection reports do not come with letter grades, or those Emoji ideograms and smiley faces used to rate Seattle restaurants. Snohomish is taking more of a Joe Friday, “just the facts, Ma’am” approach. It provides the narrative reports, leaving the ratings to the reader.

The health district, formed in 1959, serves one of the fastest growing areas of Washington State. It has completed 3,154 restaurant inspections so far this year, handing out 3,055 of the most hazardous red violations.

Red violations require immediate corrective actions by the restaurant because there is a potential direct threat to public health.

Snohomish Health District inspectors make unannounced visits twice a year to all food and beverage establishments in the county.

Two confirmed outbreaks hit Snohomish County this year. From January through September, 15 countries residents suffered from infections of E. coli O157:H7. In September, 46 people were sickened by Salmonella in an outbreak that appears to have ended.

The health district maintains office and clinic space in the municipalities of Everett and Lynnwood. A 15-member Board of Health oversees policy and budget development for the district. All five Snohomish County Council members sit on the Board of Health, together with 10 city council members and/or mayors representing the county’s 20 cities and towns. Dr. Mark Beatty is the district health officer.

Washington state’s largest county health department, Public Health – Seattle & King County, increased the transparency on its restaurant inspection site relatively recently. Some inspection information had been available online since 2001.

“A couple of years ago, Public Health began posting online all food business investigations associated with foodborne illnesses, in real or near real time. We are one of the only – if not the only – local health jurisdictions to do this across the nation,” said Hilary Karasz, spokeswoman for the department in Seattle and King County.

Public pressure in and around Seattle spurred the department to implement a new point-of-sale scoring system this year. It uses smiling, neutral or frowning emoji faces as indicators of how restaurants are doing overall with food safety regulations.

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