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Making the Grade: Posting Food Safety Scores

Making the Grade: Posting Food Safety Scores

In recent years consumers have become more concerned about what is in their food and how those ingredients move from farm to table. In turn, government regulators and restaurants worldwide have stepped up to ensure the public has access to more information surrounding food safety. This is evident through food safety scores, which are becoming more and more visible to consumers.

The Public Wants to Know

Many consumers of today are cautious about the steps taken to process, prepare, and serve their food. Food safety has grown in importance as the knowledge of genetically modified organisms has expanded.

At the restaurant level, businesses are more commonly providing the details of their food safety inspections. Not only are consumers happy to have this information available, but they want more, such as the details behind the scores. A crowd-funded 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 or fail rating—they wish to see an itemized list of where restaurants are missing the mark.

How Restaurants are Scored

Local health departments are those that rate and assign food safety scores. This is done in several ways: These ratings can be numerical, pass/fail, or indicated with a letter grade. For example, New York City evaluates using a points system, and point ranges correspond to a letter grade. Each violation found accumulates additional points. To earn a passing grade, restaurants want as few points as possible. These scores are then published to provide consumer transparency. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services noted this includes posting the score or the entire report in the establishments. In San Mateo County, California, lawmakers carried out a new program to make these ratings easier for consumers to understand. The program has a color code system that matches traffic signals to score the cards. Green, therefore, is equivalent to pass, yellow is a conditional pass, and red indicates failure—or a closed restaurant.

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