Yelp.com is starting to make it easier for diners to find a place to eat without getting sick.In August, Louisville became the second city to incorporate health-inspection information into its restaurant pages on the user-review site. San Francisco — Yelp’s home turf — was the first to do so back in January.

Now, listed among a restaurant’s business attributes (hours, parking, Wi-Fi access, etc.) is its health score out of 100 possible points and a link to a description of  violations and previous inspections.

Louisville’s Hillbilly Tea has a 95 out of 100 health score.

Yelp’s data come from city health inspectors, and the site displays the same information a consumer could find on a government site. But those sites can be unwieldy and, as Yelp Director of Public Policy Luther Lowe puts it, “Nobody goes to the .gov websites before they go to Yelp. The goal is to put highly relevant information that’s created by taxpayers in a context that makes a lot of sense.”

Lowe says that the project was partially inspired by a study of LA’s restaurant industry in the ’90s, which found that conspicuously displaying hygiene letter grades in storefronts led to a significant reductions in hospitalizations due to foodborne illnesses and helped improve conditions across the industry. These days, indecisive diners are likely to check Yelp before scoping out a physical storefront.

The new feature is “empowering the public with information,” says Kathy Harrison, communications director for the Louisville Metro Department for Public Health and Wellness. In a city committed to open data, inspection scores were already available online, via mobile app and in the restaurants themselves. But the new Yelp feature “goes a little bit further” by allowing consumers to read about inspection background and history, Harrison says.

“It’s a great tool for educating the public about food safety,” she notes.

The response to the addition of health scores has been “overwhelmingly positive,” Lowe says, and Yelp is currently working with a half-dozen other cities to bring health scores to their restaurant pages over the next several months.

© Food Safety News