The Tooele County Board of Health has approved the creation of a website that will release the inspection records of food establishments within its jurisdiction.
The site will publish two years’ worth of inspection records for every establishment in the county that serves food to be eaten immediately — not only restaurants and fast food joints, but also school lunchrooms and store delis, said Jeff Coombs, deputy director of the Tooele County Health Department.
The database will allow residents to inspect the track record of any establishment for documented problems with hygiene and food handling.
Because the food inspections database already exists internally, the health department’s current staff should be able to launch the public site at no additional cost to the department, Coombs said.
“The data is available,” he said, “we just have to get it online.”
The health board’s decision to release the inspection records is backed by science, Coombs said. Scientific studies have found that in counties with online food inspection databases, food establishments were less likely to violate regulations related to food handling and hygiene practices.
One such study, a year-long research effort that took place in Salt Lake County, was recently released by the Journal of Environmental Health.
Statistics indicate that one in six Americans will contract foodborne illnesses from improperly handled food each year, so the problem is wide-spread and warrants action, said Coombs.
Additionally, he said the website should make it easier for the public to obtain information about a topic of intense interest. Food inspection records, which are public documents and available by request under the Utah Government Records Access and Management Act, are among the most-requested records kept by the health department.
“This is consumer-driven,” he said. “There has been traditionally a demand for this information.”
The health department hopes to have the new website live by the first week of March. For years the health department has considered the potential benefits of a public food inspections database.