Restaurant Complied sticker
Source: Multnomah County Food Safety Blog. Check it out, it’s awesome!

Food safety is expensive, how do we reward companies that are taking the time to do it right?

It’s been shown that consumers will use food safety performance to choose which restaurants to eat at when it’s available. Unfortunately, when it isn’t available, a restaurant that is keeping your biscuits and gravy at a balmy 110ºf doesn’t look any different than the national brand that gets audited quarterly by their corporate food safety team armed with calibrated thermometers, a handwashing alarm, and zero tolerance.

As of this year, Oregon is working to make that information available to all of us carrying a smartphone.

The Oregon Health Authority has now enrolled34/36 of Oregon’s counties into the Healthspace software, a platform for them to scan, log, track, and make restaurant inspections publicly available.

To get more information I spoke with Jonathan Modie of OHA, he reported that the state is very excited about the new system, both from the increased level of transparency it provides to the public, but also the new analytics tools to help them identify problem facilities or locations. Having everyone on a single system allows for better data and helps counties compare their situations to each other.

So why do I have such a cluster of different sources below for restaurant inspections? It turns out the state made the system available approximately one year ago, which is allowing time to get every restaurant into the system both to troubleshoot, and level the playing field among restaurants. Rather than say “LOOK AT OUR NEW SYSTEM!” and encourage everyone in Oregon to look at the only inspection logged in the system so far (e.g. FF&F Fried Chicken), allowing a year for the backlog to include every restaurant in the county to be represented is both fair and prudent.

Just two counties are still operating outside the healthspace system but the inspection data is still available for consumer review. Multnomah and Washington counties already had robust public reporting systems in place, though Multnomah county intends to transition sometime later this year.

While it isn’t food safety directly on the door of the restaurant (which research tends to demonstrate is the only real way to have an impact on the general public and not just nerds like myself), it’s much more accessible than going to the bulletin board at your local courthouse. Public inspections allow us to not only hold restaurants accountable, but to assess the effectiveness of enforcement. We will be able to hold county inspectors responsible for visiting restaurants at the appropriate intervals, even if they’re far away.

So how does it work?

Oregon’s restaurants are inspected by local county environmental health officials, who try to visit twice annually but at least annually to ensure that restaurants are in compliance with Oregon’s sanitary standards. Restaurants are scored based on the severity of the various violations:

  • Priority: violations that are considered direct contributors to foodborne illness. These are the big ones like hot/cold holding and cooking to temp.
  • Priority foundation: violations that aren’t making dangerous food right now, but could contribute. Things like failing to make sure your sanitizer is at the correct concentration.
  • Code: findings that violate construction or other standards, but aren’t posing an imminent food safety hazard.

Restaurants that score above 70 are in compliance, however that score is not indicated on the door of the restaurant. Producers simply receive a “complied” or “failed to comply”. Not crazy helpful.

For today however, for those of you in counties already making this information public, you can click on the links below and check out the most recent inspection and/or score of the restaurant you plan to dine in (or a local favorite).

County Where to access online as of 1-15-18
Benton Coming in 2018
Coos Coming in 2018
Douglas Coming in 2018
Gilliam, Wasco, and Sherman
Grant Coming in 2018
Harney Coming in 2018
Hood River
Jefferson Expected January 2018
Klamath Coming in 2018
Lake Coming in 2018
Lincoln Coming in 2018
Linn Coming in 2018
Polk Coming in 2018
Wallowa Coming in 2018
Wheeler Coming in 2018

I’ll revisit this list later in 2018 and update as additional counties come online. Happy researching, and a heartfelt Kudos to OHA for championing this initiative to make our food supply (and regulation) transparent. When the world doesn’t end for restaurants, Oregonians should push for similar transparency for retail and food processor inspections.