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Public Health - Seattle & King County

Your input sought on restaurant inspection system in King County

Improvement efforts underway

The Public Health Food Program has launched a comprehensive program review to look at the evidence for best practices, including rating methods for food establishments. Recommendations from the review process were presented to the Board of Health in March and are now under review.

Watch the Board of Health presentation below and read the full report of the program review here (PDF, 1.6 Mb.)

It is critically important to the health of the public that recommendations for program changes be fully thought-out and tested. The goal is to provide accurate inspection information in a way that is simple, understandable, and highly accessible to the public. While a grading system is one approach, our Food Program review will examine several models and formats to determine what works best in King County before making a recommendation for change.

Over the past months, Public Health worked with a stakeholder subcommittee to provide recommendations for expanding how restaurant inspection scores are communicated and made available to the public. The purpose is to expand our system to help people make educated dining decisions. We are undertaking a transparent review of our current approach and are asking for your feedback. Our goal is to ensure that the inspection information we are providing is:
  • easy to understand
  • advances food safety, and
  • equitable to food businesses

Subcommittee meetings have been open to the public, and attendees have included representatives from local restaurants, restaurant associations, food industry associations, community organizations, the Department of Health, Washington State University, University of Washington and the public.

The subcommittee defined their ideals for a restaurant reporting system, and reviewed sample systems throughout the US and abroad. Through their research and discussions, they have come up with these recommendations. The reporting system should:

  • Communicate trend over time (many inspections, not one inspection)
  • Communicate a scale of performance (how well an establishment performed of many inspections, not just if they passed an inspection)

With these recommendations as our guide, we are working with a researcher to develop placard concepts. We will provide more information as the project continues.

Your input is important to us. Please read further to learn more about the current system, our review process, and how you can provide comments. Current feedback on the usability of the existing system and suggestions for improvement will provide us with valuable information as we move forward.

How does Public Health – Seattle & King County currently rate food establishments?

Public Health currently uses a numeric rating system rather than letter or color grades (such as letter grades A, B, C or a traffic light system using green, yellow and red colors) used in some other areas of the country to depict inspection results. We have had inspection results available in a searchable format on our website for customers since 2001 and were one of the first health departments in the nation to do so.

We list violations for each inspection visit and include the severity of the violation. We also give a short-hand description of the violation (for example, "no hand-washing facility provided"). Using the current inspection reporting system, people can see inspection result trends over time as well as results for any one specific visit. This information is available to the public as well as web application developers through our website

Our inspection data are available in an open source format and has been used by at least one web application which maps restaurants in Seattle and marks them as green, yellow or red based on the most current inspection score. By making our data easily available in a machine readable format, we are encouraging developers to figure out novel ways of sharing the information with the public.

In addition to sharing inspection data online, we also email, tweet, and Facebook all restaurant closure information. Join us on Facebook, Twitter or receive e-mail alerts from our closure webpage.

Past meeting notes (PDF):

Our goal is to protect the health of King County residents, so we strongly support community input and advocacy in this issue. We welcome your interest! Email us if you have comments or questions or use our online form below:




Privacy Policy: Public Health - Seattle & King County does not sell your personal information to 3rd parties nor will you be signed up for any listservs or publications without your permission from information collected through our online forms. Your contact information collected through this webpage is used solely for submitting your input regarding King County restaurant inspection system.

Thank you for your feedback.


Becky Elias
Acting Manager, Food Program & Water Recreation Program
Environmental Health, Public Health – Seattle & King County

401 Fifth Avenue, Suite 1100
Seattle WA 98104