I have long held the notion that one of the best things the internet has given us, is the ability to review products and services, and share those reviews in an organized manner. Sure, sites like Yelp.com can be a place for crotchety complaining types to announce their gripes to the world, but sometimes, the right people listen. For years, it's been a sick joke that city health inspectors in our country's biggest cities overlook the obvious filth of New York City restaurants, most TV SitComs have centered an episode or two around it. (Enjoy the video featured below!) I'm sure if the exaggerations are close to true, it's unfortunately so in almost every city.
In the not-so-distant past, New York City health inspectors struggled with proper, current inspections, in part because patrons of such restaurants rarely reported their bad experiences to the health department. Then along comes Yelp, and those complaining types started writing reviews. Suddenly, they're no longer so shy about telling the world if they experienced food poisoning or observed a family of cockroaches seated at the next table.
According to this article on Mid-Market Pulse, those NYC health inspectors scoured through about 300,000 Yelp reviews, finding hundreds of unreported cases of food-borne illnesses. They searched for words like "sick", "vomit", "diarrhea" and "food-poisoning", which lead them to customers who were sick as a result of their visits to three common restaurants which were found to have additional health violations.
So yeah, Yelp has become a game changer. Instead of reporting violations to government sources, government sources found the place diners do complain. Thus, a partnership was born. Last year, Yelp announced it's intention to share food safety information directly on it's review pages. Right next to hours of operation and menu price breakdowns, in major cities like New York and San Francisco, you'll see the restaurant's health score rating.
It's unclear why those scores aren't available in all cities, but it's safe to assume that it depends upon cooperation between Yelp and each city's Health Department. So while we in Denver do not yet benefit from that easy access to food safety scores, we can still search Yelp reviews ourselves. Or take advantage of the information provided when traveling.
Personally, I love the fact that this rating system is in progress. It's one more way the internet has given power to the people to make decisions that really do impact our health and safety.