Making the Grade: Posting Food Safety Scores

Consumers have become more concerned about what is in their food and how those products move from farm to table, and government regulators and restaurants around the world have stepped up to keep the public more informed about food safety. This trend is evident through posted food safety scores, which are becoming more visible to consumers.

The public wants to be in the know
Many of today’s consumers are cautious about the steps taken to process and serve their food. Food safety is of growing importance as indicated by widespread protests over genetically modified organisms, calls for improved labeling to detail nutrition facts and the public’s penchant for reading research about food processing to become savvier consumers.

“Food safety scores are becoming more visible to consumers.”

At the restaurant level, establishments are providing the details of their food safety inspections. Not only are consumers happy to have this information, they want to see comprehensive scores. In fact, a crowdfunded study commissioned by Dine Safe King County and conducted by researchers from the University of Washington’s Human Centered Design Department showed consumers want more than an overall pass/fail rating – they desire to see an itemized list of where restaurants are missing the mark.

With this trend in mind, how have regulators and members of food service industry responded?

How inspectors score restaurants
Local health departments assign food safety scores in various ways. These ratings are numerical, pass/fail or denoted with a letter-based grade. New York City, for example, evaluates restaurants using a points system, and point ranges correspond to a letter grade. Each violation accumulates more points, so to earn a passing grade, restaurants want as few points as possible.

To be transparent about these ratings, restaurants publish their scores. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services noted this includes posting the score or the entire report in the establishments.

Lawmakers in San Mateo County, California, implemented a new program to make these posted ratings easier for consumers to understand. This program will color code the score placards to match traffic signals: green means a restaurant passed, yellow indicates a conditional pass and red denotes a closed restaurant.

 

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