New website lists the food code violations at every restaurant in Minneapolis
112 Eatery is the first restaurant to show up on Webster's comprehensive, alphabetical list.
Screenshot from mplshealth.com
In New York City, restaurants have to post letter grades that reflect their latest health department inspection. Ditto in San Francisco, though there the scores come on a 100-point scale.
In fact, in each of the 50 largest cities in the U.S., diners can check online to see if a food establishment racked up any code violations -- like, say, mouse droppings in the kitchen -- during its last inspection.
Except, says Tony Webster, in Minneapolis.
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Webster, a locally based open data researcher, decided to change that. In Minneapolis, the inspection results are public information, but accessing them requires putting in a data request with the city. That's a considerable hoop to jump through before making a dinner reservation. So Webster did it for you .
In February, he requested the city's database. After a few months of back-and-forth, he got the data on Monday, and launched the website, mplshealth.com, the next day.
The fully searchable site indexes inspection information from May 2011 to May 2013 for every food establishment in the city -- about "2,500 or 2,600," Webster says.
Because 2012 is the only full year for which he has data, Webster used it as his benchmark. Each restaurant page features a blue box on the upper right that tallies the establishment's "critical" violations for the year.
"I was surprised on both ends of the spectrum," Webster says. "A few of my favorite restaurants had a sickening number of critical, gag-worthy violations that I hope were addressed, while others seemed to pass their inspections with flying colors."
Webster cautions that some context is missing from the raw numbers. For instance, they don't show whether a restaurant has addressed the violations, and they can be misleading for restaurants with multiple licenses: A place with both restaurant and commercial kitchen licenses, like the French Meadow, might rack up more violations not because it's dirtier, but because it has more criteria to fulfill.
For Webster, "the website is a rough draft of something bigger." He plans to add maps and charts that analyze which neighborhoods have the most food violations.
He also notes that, if the city was more open about releasing data to web developers, more projects like this could happen. Chicago, for instance, has "a number of openly accessible streams of data," Webster wrote in an email, which allowed him to create an app that texts you if your car is towed. For months, he says, he's been asking for information on vacant and foreclosed homes for a data visualization project, but hasn't been able to get the city to fill his request.
"I have a lot of respect for the work that the city does in protecting public health and food safety," Webster wrote, continuing, "I'd really like to work directly with the city to make this a stronger and more useful application."
For its part, the city says getting the data online on its own has been "primarily a tech challenge," according to spokesperson Matt Laible. "Providing online reports is certainly something we'd like to do, and it's something we're evaluating as part of the roll-out of a new computer system down the line."
Webster's site is set up for direct search-by-name or surf-by-list, and is also mobile-accessible for on-the-go assessments. Get browsing, and in the comments, and let us know which results surprise you.
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