According to data provided by the city of Chicago, more than 7,300 restaurants are operating in the city. Using the Food Inspections area on the Chicago Data Portal, visitors can find when these restaurants were last inspected . . . or can they?
I looked to see if there was an inspection report for RL, one of the most popular restaurants in town. Using the search term "RL," the system indicted "no results." I then searched under the name "Ralph Lauren" restaurant, since Lauren owns the restaurant. Again, no results. I tried a couple more variations of RL and Ralph Lauren and still was unable to find anything on this, one of the busiest and most popular restaurants in the city.
It's very likely this is one of many reasons that Yelp, which allows users to write reviews regarding just about anything (including restaurants), is expanding its LIVES Program to more cities around the country, including, hopefully, Chicago.
Most cities regularly inspect restaurants to ensure the food being served is safe. However, finding that information can be cumbersome, as the example discussed earlier proves. Unfortunately, ".gov" websites rarely make it easy for visitors to find what they are looking for.
True, some cities, such as Los Angeles, Albuquerque and others require restaurants to post a card—usually with a letter "A" "B" or "C", indicating how well the restaurant scored on its last inspection. Even so, patrons often do not see or notice these cards.
That's where the Yelp LIVES (Local Inspector Value-Entry Specification) program comes in. It started in San Francisco in 2013, and the goal was to allow Yelp users to "increase access to this critical information by working directly with local health departments to post this data on the Yelp website. It adds to the information consumers can find about a restaurant, when making a decision about where to eat their next meal," according to a July 2018 blog posting on the company's website.
The Yelp site now has health inspection information on more than 200,000 food establishment businesses in the U.S. These restaurants are located in 42 states, and according to the company, they will continue to roll out more updates and add more health inspection reports in more locations on a state-by-state basis in coming months.
However, the program has been met with some resistance, especially with different restaurant associations. For instance, they argue, what if a restaurant received a poor inspection report a year ago, but has since addressed those problems and rectified them?
Yelp says the inspection reports will remain as current as possible and urges visitors to look at the date of the report. While this statement has not necessarily quelled the controversy, Yelp claims there is considerable value to the program and points to a 2005 study published by the University of Maryland.
This study looked into the impact of restaurant grading systems in Los Angeles County from 1998 to the year 2000. What they found was that when inspection report grades, such as those mentioned in LA and Albuquerque, were prominently posted in a restaurant, there was a 13.1 percent decrease in the number of people hospitalized with foodborne illnesses.
What Yelp is doing is a reflection of what people want today, and that is transparency. Whether it involves food labeling, indicating what nutrients are in a food item, or how restaurants rated on their last inspection report, people want to know. This is just one more step in that direction.
For more information on this topic or food labeling, contact a DayMark Safety Systems representative by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 1-866-517-0490.