Health Department Data Publication:
Best Practices for Amplifying the Impact of Food Service and Retail Inspections


Although digital records of food safety inspections are increasingly offered online by health departments and other similarly responsible agencies, there remain significant limitations hindering the use of this data in the private sector, especially at major food service/retail operations. These businesses are strongly motivated to pursue high levels of compliance, but health department websites designed for the general public fall short of addressing the needs of multi-location operators and corporate food safety teams.

This document is for policymakers, agency administrators, health inspectors, and others who work on monitoring and improving food safety in the public interest. With this report, we intend to help health departments and policymakers understand both the current state of health inspection data, from the perspective of our private-sector customers, and opportunities for improvement.

We structure the discussion along four general principles that are fundamental to inspection data publication:

  • Online data availability
  • Ease of access
  • Timeliness
  • Detail and accuracy

With each principle we do a deep dive and offer concrete examples from our data. For example, with respect to timeliness, we analyze the breakdown of jurisdictions by speed of publication.

Inspection Data Lag Time

Percentage of jurisdictions by inspection data lag time (as of April 2020)
(Lag time = date of inspection to date of online publication)

Finally, we share a series of concrete, easy-to-implement data publication recommendations that can maximize the public health benefit derived from existing regulatory inspection programs.

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