02.The situation overseas
In many parts of the world you can check a restaurant’s hygiene score in the window, the same way as you would the menu. Some cities even have websites where you can read the latest inspection reports for local restaurants. Here are some examples:
In New York, the inspection results of more than 20,000 of the city’s restaurants are available on a website and can be searched by name, neighbourhood or hygiene points score (including establishments that have been awarded a ‘Golden Apple’ for their excellent food safety practices).
» Restaurant Inspection Information
A similar service exists in Los Angeles.
» Restaurant Watch
Toronto’s DineSafe program allows customers to see the results of any restaurant’s most recent inspection on a coloured sign in the window — green for pass, yellow for conditional pass (infractions must be corrected within 48 hours) and red for those that fail and are closed down. Its website provides details of each establishment’s most recent inspection finding, as well as its inspection history.
Denmark provides comprehensive details on a website, with summaries displayed at the premises through the use of a range of different ‘smiley face’ symbols, from happy to sad.
» Smiley scheme (it's in Danish)
A ‘Scores on the doors’ scheme is being trialled in a few local authorities across England. Inspection information is displayed on the door or window, supported by information on a website.
» Scores On The Doors
In Auckland, registered food premises are given a food hygiene grade from A to E, which they have to display. There’s also a website where you can search by business name or address and look up the grade.
» Food grading search
Do scores on doors make a difference?
Inspection statistics from the LA program show the compulsory display of hygiene grade cards leads to cleaner restaurants. When that program was first implemented in 1998, 57% of restaurants got an ‘A’ grade. By 2005, that number had grown to 84%. The number of hospitalisations for food-borne illnesses in LA dropped by over 13% in the first year of the program, and the decrease was sustained in subsequent years.
Not only are restaurants cleaner and diners healthier, the cleanest establishments are making more money, according to more research on the LA program. Restaurants that earn an ‘A’ grade see their revenue grow by nearly 6%, because the public knows they’re clean. By contrast, ‘B’ grade restaurants earn less than 1% more each year, and ‘C’ grade restaurants lose 1% of business revenue when the grades are published.
You should be able to choose a restaurant on the basis of hygiene, just as you would on the basis of the menu, service or ambience. Ultimately, arming consumers with information about food inspection results — all of them, not just the extremes that result in convictions — raises expectations and gives an incentive to food outlets to improve or maintain good hygiene standards. This has a knock-on effect of reducing the health risk to consumers.