Food safety rating system
The new food safety rating system is here!
The new food safety rating system improves how Public Health - Seattle & King County rates food safety in restaurants and how that information will be available to you.
How to appeal an inspection finding or food safety rating (for owners/operators only)
The new rating system is:
easy to understand advances food safety equitable to food businesses
A restaurant's food safety rating will now be displayed on a sign on a restaurant’s window. The signs will help you easily understand how a restaurant practices food safety on any given day. The ratings and full inspection history will be available starting on January 17, 2017 and also provided as open data.
Watch our food inspectors in action and learn more about the new rating system.
Food safety rating categories
Restaurants will now receive one of four food safety ratings to provide the public with more information about the level of a restaurant’s food safety practices, helping them make informed decisions about eating out. If a restaurant is open for business it meets minimum food safety standards to operate.
The four food safety ratings are:
- Needs to Improve: The restaurant was either closed by Public Health – Seattle & King County within the last year or the restaurant needed multiple return inspections to fix food safety practices.
- Okay: The restaurant has had MANY red critical violations over the last four inspections.
- Good: The restaurant has had SOME red critical violations over the last four inspections.
- Excellent: The restaurant has had No or Few red critical violations over the last four inspections.
What is behind a restaurant’s rating?
A restaurant’s rating category is determined by three main components:
- Trend of food safety practices over time. Good food safety needs to be practiced every day. The food safety rating window signs will reflect how well a restaurant has performed over time, not just on a single inspection. A restaurant’s food safety rating will be determined by the average of red critical violation points from a restaurant’s last four routine inspections.
- Scale of performance. King County residents want to know more than if a restaurant passes or fails an inspection. The restaurant window signs will show how well the restaurant practices food safety beyond meeting the minimum standard.
- Rating on a curve. Consumers tend to dine locally by their zip code or area. Rating on a curve provides accurate and useful information to consumers about how well a restaurant performs on food safety compared to restaurants nearby. Also, Restaurants within an area tend to have the same food inspector. Our inspectors go through extensive training and all focus on food safety. Even with the training, they may still have slightly different inspection styles. Rating on a curve helps compensate for differences in inspection rating style.
Each restaurant’s average score is compared with other restaurants within the same zip code or area. The rating on a curve applies to the top 3 categories. Here is the approximate breakdown of the percentage of restaurants that fall into each category:
Here is the approximate breakdown of the percentage of restaurants that fall into each category: 50% ‘Excellent,’ 40% ‘Good’ and 10% ‘Okay.’ The ‘Needs to improve’ category is not rated on a curve.
Developing the new food safety rating system
Public Health - Seattle & King County gathered recommendations, priorities and concerns from restaurant operators, food safety experts, diverse language speaking communities and people affected by foodborne illness. This feedback combined with research, informed the development of the new Food Safety Rating System.
Designing the restaurant window sign
Six window sign designs were reviewed by communities across King County to make sure they were easy to understand by people of many different cultures and by people who speak many different languages. We organized community meetings and visited over 100 restaurants to gather feedback on the window sign designs and to understand community priorities regarding the new rating system. An online survey, available in English and seven other languages, also gathered feedback on the restaurant window sign designs. The restaurant window signs include a number to text to learn more about what a restaurant’s rating means. This information is available in Amharic, Cantonese, English, Korean, Mandarin, Spanish, Somali and Vietnamese.
We’ve received over 3,500 responses! Thank you for your feedback. We used your feedback to inform the designer of the final sign.
Equity and fairness is important to Public Health — Seattle & King County
The new Food Safety Rating System was designed to advance equity and fairness. Here are some ways we incorporated equity and fairness into our system.
- Our rating methods were designed to fairly measure a restaurant’s food safety practices by focusing on trend over time, scale of performance and rating on a curve.
- We listened to the concerns of restaurant operators about food safety inspection consistency. To address this concern we provided extra training and started peer review inspections where staff conduct inspections side by side to learn from each other. This helps make inspectors more consistent with each other.
- The development of the Food Safety Rating System was a collaborative process which included extensive outreach to restaurants, communities, food safety experts and King County residents.
Our food safety rating system will be evaluated in collaboration with community partners. We are committed to making changes based on evaluation results in order to advance equity and fairness.
Related blog posts
- With the new year comes a new way to rate food safety: a Q&A with Becky Elias and Damarys Espinoza
- Seattle Restaurant Alliance weighs in on our new food safety rating system
- Two heads are better than one: one step closer to restaurant grading
- Eagerly awaiting restaurant placarding? Here are the next best things
- Food inspection grades: A – B – C, easy as 1 – 2 – 3 … or is it?
The new system is rolling out across King County in four phases throughout 2017. We divided King County into four geographic areas. When a new phase of the roll out starts (in January, April, July and October), restaurants in that new area will start getting window signs as they are routinely inspected.
Check out the list of zip codes below in each phase of the roll out to see when your favorite restaurant is getting its window sign. Restaurants won’t necessarily receive their window sign as soon as their phase starts. The start of a new phase of the roll out just means the restaurants in that area will receive their window sign as soon as they have their next routine inspection. Because King County has over 12,000 restaurants and only 45 Food Inspectors, some restaurants won't receive their sign until later in the year.
Phase one – January, 2017: Orange area of map
Phase two – April, 2017: Purple area of map
Phase three – July 2017: Green area of map
Phase four – October 2017: Blue area of map
In the new Food Safety Rating System, restaurants are required to post their window sign. Since every restaurant is different, Food Inspectors will work with restaurants to find the best place to post the window sign in accordance to the code of the King County Board of Health.
According to the code of the King County Board of Health window signs must be clearly visible to passersby.
Each window sign must be posted:
- Within five feet of the main public entrance so the sign is clearly visible to people passing by or entering the establishment; or
- In a conspicuous location at the establishment as approved by the Food Inspector to ensure the sign is clearly visible to people passing by or entering the establishment.
If window signs are not correctly posted according to the rules above, a penalty fee can be charged. Penalty fees are a percentage of a business’ annual permit fee. The penalty fee grows incrementally and with each offense.
|Offense (in 2-year period)||Penalty fee|
|1st offense||50% of permit fee*|
|2nd offense||100% of permit fee|
|3rd and subsequent offenses||200% of permit fee|
* Applying a fee that is % of permit cost is more equitable because it is relative scale to the business size.
The above code was passed by the Board of Health on January, 19, 2017. Watch a video of the recorded meeting.
Who's included in the Food Safety Rating System?
As of now, food businesses with what we call a General Food Service permit are included in the rating system. This includes restaurants large and small, coffee shops, bars and even the delis inside large grocery stores.
In 2018, once the rating system is well underway, we’ll begin to include other permitted food businesses such as food trucks and caterers. We will have more details on this later this year.
Food businesses with one of these five permit types are currently included in the rating system:
Permit types in the Food Safety Rating System:
- General Food Service- 0-12 seats
- General Food Service- 13-50 seats
- General Food Service- 51-150 seats
- General Food Service- 151-250 seats
- General Food Service- over 250 seats