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How clean is the restaurant? Yelp adds inspection scores to its listings

An arrow shows where the health inspection information will be found on each Florida restaurant page on Yelp. If a user clicks on the health inspection link, full details about the most recent and past inspections will pop up.
An arrow shows where the health inspection information will be found on each Florida restaurant page on Yelp. If a user clicks on the health inspection link, full details about the most recent and past inspections will pop up.

Yelp will now give you one more way to choose a restaurant in Florida: a virtual peek behind that swinging door.

Because many people want to know how clean the kitchen is — and their health could depend on it — the popular online consumer-review site created the ability to display health inspection information on its restaurant pages. It’s part of Yelp’s LIVES open data program (LIVES stands for Local Inspector Value Entry Specification, if you must know), and it allows consumers to see this relevant information before making a spending decision.

In partnership with HDScores, a company that aggregates health inspection data of restaurants nationwide, Yelp will bring health scores to the Yelp pages of about 40,000 restaurants in Florida beginning Wednesday. That extends its current health scores coverage by more than 50 percent.

This information is publicly available on government websites, and the Miami Herald has been carrying the information on dine.miami.com and in the Miami.com section of its app for almost two years. But this is the first time that Yelp, the leading site for restaurant information and reviews, has offered this on listings throughout a state, and more states may be on the way.

We want to better inform consumers when they are making decisions about where they should go eat and put pressure on the industry to adhere to best practices.

Luther Lowe, Yelp VP of Public Policy

“This all started with an open data initiative we announced in 2013,” said Luther Lowe, vice president of public policy for Yelp. The inspiration for that new initiative stemmed from a law change in the late 1990s in Los Angeles County that required restaurants to prominently display letter grades for their health inspections by their front doors. Within two years of the change, there was a 13 percent reduction in hospitalization due to food borne illnesses and 90 percent of restaurants had A or B scores, he said.

“Our inspiration for creating this was to essentially become a digital version of the Los Angeles project,” Lowe said. “The data that governments collect is typically available on obscure dot gov websites that no one visits and what we wanted to do is take that information and put it in a context that makes sense.”

Virtually every restaurant listing in Florida on Yelp will contain the information. “Yelp doesn’t ask permission from the industry to roll out features — we view ourselves as a platform to empower and protect consumers,” Lowe said, adding that every year, one in six Americans gets a serious food-borne illness, often from restaurants.

“We want to better inform consumers when they are making decisions about where they should go eat and put pressure on the industry to adhere to best practices,” Lowe said. “We want to reduce food borne-illness outbreaks and save lives.”

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

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