New Website Uses Health Data To Track Food-Borne Illnesses

Reader Contribution by Kayla Matthews
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Everyone loves going out to eat at their favorite local restaurant, but when a pleasant meal ends up with you sick or even in the hospital, a lovely evening can quickly become a nightmare. While your local health department regularly inspects all the restaurants in your city, it can be difficult to access these inspection reports promptly.

That’s where Dining Grades comes in — a new website that keeps track of popular restaurants and makes it easier to make a decision about where you’re going to eat tonight. What makes Dining Grades different from other websites?

What’s Behind That Door

Finding the safest place to eat isn’t always easy — the dining room might look pristine, but you have no way of knowing what the kitchen or food prep areas look like. Rodents, pests, food that’s being improperly prepared or improperly stored, or food that is being transported at an incorrect temperature all put you at risk of acquiring a food-borne illness. In the U.S., more than 48 million people get sick every year from food-borne bacteria — roughly one out of every six people in the country.

Making the Right Choice

Sites like Dining Grades are an invaluable tool to help you make the right choice when deciding where to dine. You can search restaurants by city or by name, and see their average food safety rating, as well as the results of all of their recent health department inspections. While the site does not provide the details of these inspections, it also provides tools to allow you to both rate the restaurant and to report suspected food-borne illnesses.

While just having this information isn’t always enough to avoid a bad batch of food at even highly rated restaurants, it can help you avoid places that might look good, but are perpetually rated poorly by their local health department inspectors.

Too Much Information

Some could argue that providing all this information to the public isn’t in the best interest of the businesses themselves. Some restaurants, after being closed for violations, have ended up closing their doors for good, because even a temporary closure is enough to cause the public to lose confidence in even their favorite eateries.

While public reviews and inspection reports might be detrimental to the businesses’ reputation, these details are essential to help patrons make smart and informed choices about where they choose to eat.

Preventable Illnesses

The most tragic thing about food-borne illnesses, especially those that end in the death of those afflicted, is that they are almost always preventable. By observing proper food storage and preparation procedures, restaurants and food sellers can prevent the growth of bacteria that leads to these illnesses. With 48 percent of food-borne illnesses being traced back to restaurants, it is the restaurant owner’s responsibility to ensure that all food prepared in their kitchen is safe and ready for consumption.

Just storing both hot and cold foods at the proper temperatures and avoiding cross-contamination can do much toward the prevention of these illnesses, and restaurants that cannot or will not comply with these procedures should be closed down until they are able or willing to make the necessary changes to protect their consumers.

While the average consumer isn’t going to be inspecting kitchens, there are tools available to help diners make the best decision to avoid food-borne illnesses. Take the time to research a new restaurant before you head out to eat a meal — it could mean the difference between having a pleasant dinner with the family and ending up in the hospital with a preventable food-borne illness.

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