The Tooele County Health Department launched a new restaurant inspections webpage on Monday, making the inspection records of all Tooele County food establishments available to the public online.
The website details the inspections of all Tooele food establishments, including not only restaurants and fast food joints, but also school lunchrooms, store delis, and even concession stands.
However, Jeff Coombs, deputy director of the Tooele County Health Department, said the site is still considered a live beta, and some records may still be missing or duplicated.
All food service inspection records since July 1, 2013 will be available on the site, but the health department was unable to make older records available for technical reasons, Coombs said. New records will be added as inspections take place, but he said it may be two to four years before the website accurately reflects any given establishment’s track record.
New inspection records are added to the website a few days after the inspection takes place, Coombs said. All food establishments are required to undergo routine inspections, but the number of inspections varies from once to three times a year, depending on several risk factors such as the type of food served and the customers’ sensitivity to food-borne illness.
Additional follow-up inspections may be required if an establishment accrues a significant number of violations during a routine inspection, Coombs said, or if the inspector observes a particularly concerning violation and wants to ensure the problem is addressed.
Each individual inspection record lists violations in two categories, critical and noncritical, and cites the reasons for those violations. Critical violations, which might include improper food storage, handling or temperature holding, have the potential to make customers sick, Coombs said. Noncritical violations, which might include a greasy wall or burned-out light bulb, could create unsafe or unsanitary conditions, but aren’t as likely to make customers ill, he said.
According to the online database, roughly 40 percent of Tooele County food establishments cleared their most recent inspection without a critical violation, and 15 percent went without a single critical or non-critical violation.
Those numbers reflect local food establishments’ long-running track record of avoiding food-borne illness, Coombs said.
“Overall I think our establishments do very well,” he said. “We haven’t had a significant food-borne outbreak in years.”
Coombs said it was not uncommon for food establishments, especially large establishments that serve a variety of foods, such as restaurants, to accrue a few violations with each inspection.
One thing to remember, Coombs said, is that each inspection is only a snapshot in time.
“On any given day,” he said, “an establishment might be better or worse.”
Food inspection records are considered public documents and, prior to the website’s release, were available by request under the Utah Government Records Access and Management Act. Because inspection records are among the most-requested records kept by the health department, Coombs said the decision to create the inspections website was in part consumer-driven.
Coombs said the Tooele County Board of Health also took scientific evidence into account when making the decision to put inspection records online. 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.
The website should also help fulfill a new FDA regulation that will require all food service establishments to post their most recent inspection for public view, Coombs said.
The online inspections can be viewed at tooelehealth.org/food-establishment-restaurant-inspections.