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King County Executive
Dow Constantine


King County is once again at the forefront of food safety, making ratings more accurate, consistent and transparent

Summary

Public Health – Seattle & King County worked with top researchers, food inspectors and community advocates to develop a new way of communicating how well local restaurants perform in terms of food safety. The new window signs and ratings system ensures that King County remains at the forefront of accurate and transparent food safety ratings.

Story

Public Health – Seattle & King County has unveiled new signs that food inspectors will place in restaurant windows—part of its broader strategy to ensure King County remains a leader in accurate and transparent food safety ratings.

King County is the first county in the United States to base its food safety ratings on four inspections rather than a single snapshot, better reflecting a restaurant’s performance over time. Public Health is also the first agency to use side-by-side peer inspections as a training tool so inspectors can better understand how they reached their conclusions, a proven approach that increases consistency.

“We are once again putting King County at the forefront of innovative public health practices, making food safety ratings more accurate, consistent and transparent,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “Our new approach supports our region’s diverse, thriving restaurant scene and helps customers make better informed decisions when dining out.”

King County has a long history of innovative practices for food safety. In 2001, Public Health – Seattle & King County became the first agency in the state to post restaurant inspection results online.

This new approach takes it a step forward by providing customers more than a simple pass/fail measurement so they can see how well a restaurant practices food safety beyond meeting the minimum standards.

Easy-to-understand emojis based on improved data

Public Health – Seattle & King County conducted extensive outreach in eight languages to ensure the emojis for the window signs can be easily understood regardless of what language someone speaks or how well they read. Public Health hosted focus groups, conducted interviews and posted an online survey, engaging restaurant operators, food safety experts, customers, people affected by foodborne illness, and diverse communities.

The data that informs the new food safety ratings will also be more accurate under the new system.

Public Health worked with Stanford Law School's Daniel Ho to improve inspector consistency. Together, they published an article in the Boston Review that found the net effect of Public Health sending two food inspectors randomly assigned to the same inspection reduced the variability in safety ratings.

The approach also had a positive impact on the culture within Public Health’s Food Protection Program. Food inspectors said working in pairs helps them learn from their peers.

“The fact that our staff improved what was already a high-performing division shows they have embraced the principle of continuous improvement,” said Patty Hayes, Director of Public Health – Seattle & King County. “I am proud of the extraordinary work that our team has done to work with restaurant owners and the community to deliver a system for food safety ratings that has the potential to be a national model.”

food-safety-ratings


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Quotes

We are once again putting King County at the forefront of innovative public health practices, making food safety ratings more accurate, consistent and transparent. Our new approach supports our region’s diverse, thriving restaurant scene and helps customers make better informed decisions when dining out.

Dow Constantine, King County Executive

The fact that our staff improved what was already a high-performing division shows they have embraced the principle of continuous improvement. I am proud of the extraordinary work that our team has done to work with restaurant owners and the community to deliver a system for food safety ratings that has the potential to be a national model.

Patty Hayes, Director of Public Health – Seattle & King County

Seattle Restaurant Alliance members take food safety and the well-being of our customers very seriously. We appreciate the opportunities the health department gave us to provide input into the new food safety rating system. We believe the process was well organized and feedback thoughtfully considered. We look forward to testing and monitoring this new system and will continue to provide feedback as it is implemented.

Seattle Restaurant Alliance

I was impressed by the county’s commitment to design a policy intervention that could potentially address core challenges of inspection, accuracy and consistency, as well as be rigorously evaluated.

Daniel Ho, Researcher at Stanford Law School

For more information, contact:

Chad Lewis, Executive Office, 206-263-1250


King County Executive
Dow Constantine
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