Jurisdictions that require restaurants to post their inspection scores experience fewer foodborne disease outbreaks than those that do not.
This conclusion is the result of a pair of recent studies funded by the US Centers Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA).
Point-of-service vs. online disclosure
A survey of 790 government-run state and local food establishment inspection programs conducted in January-April 2000 found that mandatory display of inspection grades by restaurants and other food establishments was more effective than simple online disclosure.
- 15% fewer re-inspections
- 38% fewer illness complaints
- 55% fewer outbreaks
- 12% fewer Salmonella cases
Grading systems improved food safety
The survey also compared agencies that used a grading method versus those that did not. Grading the results of inspections, whether by a letter or numerical system, made a significant difference to performance.
- 37% fewer re-inspections
- 22% fewer complaints
- 61% fewer outbreaks
- 23% fewer cases of Salmonella
Knowledge is power
If you were offered the choice between two restaurants, one with a prominently posted “A” inspection grade and the other with an equally visible “B” or “C” grade, which would you choose?
If those grades were available only online at a local or state/provincial government website, would you bother to check?
Would you even know to look for the information?
Making the results of food safety inspections available AND VISIBLE puts power into the hands of consumers.
This, in turn, gives greater incentive to food establishments to maintain a top food safety rating.
The numbers don’t lie.
Applying the lessons
The US Food and Drug Administration conducts hundreds of inspections each year and has made a searchable inspection database available to the public on its website.
The CDC inspects all cruise ships that call at US ports and posts the results of those inspections on its website.
How many consumers even know that this information is available, much less know how to access it?
If cruise lines were required to post the results of their latest inspections on their websites, consumers could easily choose to avoid ships and/or cruise lines with a poor sanitation history.
Similarly, if food manufacturers were required to disclose the grade received on their most recent inspection, consumers could use that information when deciding which brand of product to buy.
Putting this information into the hands of consumers would put pressure on cruise lines and food manufacturers to strive for and maintain a high standard of cleanliness and food safety.
The bottom line
I have encountered complaints from individuals in the food industry who claimed that a recall notice posted on the FDA web site affected their company’s reputation and sales.
Some companies (I can think of two pet food companies in particular) even sued the FDA to prevent the release of a recall notice or a public alert about a contaminated food, claiming that such publicity had a negative affect on their sales in the past.
People care about the safety of the food they eat and the food they feed their families. But consumers must have easy access to current and accurate information in order to make informed decisions.
I look forward to the day when all government agencies responsible for overseeing food safety mandate point-of-service and point-of-sale disclosure of inspection results.
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