Restaurant Food Safety Inspections
Digital Disclosure with a Nationally Standardized Database

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Project Description

The goal of this project is to compile, study, and openly distribute a nationally standardized database of government health inspectors' restaurant ratings.

Information disclosure is an important policy tool in many contexts. By empowering consumers to make more informed choices, firms face enhanced incentives for delivering high quality services. If the disclosed information reflects regulatory activities, disclosure also allows the public to better monitor the government and improve the efficacy of regulation. Several studies verify this intuition, including our own research showing that the posting of restaurant hygiene grade cards in restaurant windows in Los Angeles in 1998 caused a 20% reduction in the number of people admitted to hospital with food-related illnesses (Jin and Leslie, 2003).

Our general plan is to:

  1. Create a standardized, up-to-date database of official government hygiene inspections that cover at least the top 50 metropolitan areas in the U.S.;
  2. Document discrepancies across local jurisdictions and evaluate how such discrepancies relate to inspection and public health outcomes;
  3. Make the data broadly available via a public API; and
  4. Provide adequate data documentation and technical service so that any interested party (consumer advocates, food producers, academic researchers and government agencies) can use the data for their own purpose.

To date, we have identified 1,403 counties that provide online inspection results (about half of all counties in the U.S.), accounting for approximiately 60% of the U.S. population. We also find that inspection data is avaialble for all of the 30 largest cities in the U.S. We currently are building the technology to collect and normalize this data.


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