Getting access to Anchorage restaurant health inspections just became easier.
Starting Monday, the municipality began providing health inspection data to Yelp, a crowd-sourced website that collects reviews for restaurants and other businesses.
Now, if consumers are searching for a place to eat, they can also find the latest health inspection score for those establishments.
Anchorage joins other cities including San Francisco and San Diego in giving health inspection scores to the website. In Anchorage, that data has already been available for years through the municipality's searchable database, but Brendan Babb, the municipality's recently hired chief innovation officer, said the goal is to use Yelp to make the information easier to find for more people.
"We feel like residents are looking for information on deciding where to go eat (when they use Yelp)," he said. "And being able to put the health inspection data where people are already looking is valuable."
Health inspection scores are rated on a point system from 1 to 100. Scores are deducted based on violations found by health inspectors on everything from food storage and cooking temperatures to hand washing. Scores below 80 result in a near-term re-inspection or possible closure. Scores below 70 result in an automatic temporary closure until the violations are corrected.
Restaurants are inspected about once a year, according to Shelley Griffith, program manager for the city's environmental health services program that performs restaurant inspections within the municipality.
The Yelp data also includes brief descriptions on restaurant violations. While other cities use a letter grade system to inform diners of the sanitation of the restaurant, Griffith said others have moved toward a numerical approach in an attempt to offer more details to the consumer.
Babb said the restaurant scores will be updated to Yelp every week. Not all restaurants on Yelp have scores listed, since some restaurants have not been re-inspected since the city changed its scoring system in April 2015.
He noted that some studies, including one published by the National Environmental Health Association in 2005, have shown that providing easily accessible information about health inspection scores has a correlation with reducing the rates of food-borne illnesses. Babb hopes that having access to the data might result in fewer hospital visits.
"I'm excited to get this data into the hands of residents so they can help make data-driven decisions about restaurants they want to go to," he said. "If it comes down to one or two and people can't decide, hopefully this provides a little more information."