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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.
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How to appeal an inspection finding or food safety rating (for owners/operators only)

2018 update

The new food safety rating system launched January 2017 is now one year old and we want to provide you with an update and share our progress.

  • Public Health's food safety investigators have provided the new rating signage for thousands of restaurants so far. All restaurants will receive their signage by this summer. For an updated number of restaurants rated, visit our food inspection search engine page.

  • The number of restaurants in King County that have perfect scores of "0" critical food safety violations increased in 2017 from 52% to 55%. The food safety team is seeing an increased number of restaurant owners that are seeking to ensure they are meeting all of the food safety standards.
Watch our food inspectors in action and learn more about the new rating system.

Restaurants 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:

  • Excellent: The restaurant has had No or Few red critical violations over the last four inspections.

  • Good: The restaurant has had SOME red critical violations over the last four inspections.

  • Okay: The restaurant has had MANY red critical violations over the last four inspections.

  • 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.

Food safety rating emoji

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.

  • Zip code adjustments. Our inspectors go through extensive training and all focus on food safety. Even with the training, they may still have slightly different inspection styles. Adjusting the benchmarks in each zip code helps compensate for differences in inspection rating style. Without adjustment, a window placard grade would have more to do with the inspector's grading style than the food safety practices at the restaurant. Adjusting makes the signs more accurate for patrons and equitable for businesses.

    Each restaurant's average score is compared with other restaurants within the same zip code or area. The zip code breakpoints apply to the top 3 categories.

Here is the approximate breakdown of the percentage of restaurants that fall into each category: 55% 'Excellent,' 36% 'Good' and 8% 'Okay.' The 'Needs to improve' category is not rated on zip code adjustments. This category is based on Washington State Minimum Food Safety requirements.

Emoji image interpretation

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.

There are three different risk categories within the General Food Service permit.

  • Risk 1 businesses are primarily grab and go and do not prepare food on-site.
  • Risk 2 restaurants are moderate risk, they assemble food on-site but do not prepare food from scratch.
  • Risk 3 restaurants prepare food from scratch and are more complex, which puts them in a higher risk category.

Each risk category is compared against businesses within their risk category, and not with businesses in other categories.

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.

Public Health received feedback from the public and industry about the new system

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.

Finalized food safety rating poster

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.

Public Health hosted a series of open public meetings to gather feedback