Health Inspection Data on Yelp
In 2021, Hazel Analytics launched a partnership with Yelp to display inspection details for restaurants and other food service facilities on the Yelp platform. As the research from our co-founders and that of others has shown, making health inspection information easier to find leads to increased hygiene at restaurants, better financial performance for restaurants, and improved public health outcomes.
Although we've been providing valuable food safety technology solutions to hundreds of major food service and retail companies since 2015, we understand that consumers and independent restaurant operators may be less familiar with Hazel Analytics. The frequently asked questions below are intended to provide an introduction to Hazel Analytics, health inspection data, and our work with Yelp.
Who is Hazel Analytics?
We're a Seattle-based technology company with a mission to improve public health through data-driven technology that effectively informs and connects food service operators, consumers, regulators, and industry providers to drive action. Our customers rely on Hazel technology to proactively monitor food safety and regulatory compliance at over 300,000 locations that serve millions of meals every day in the US, Canada, and UK. You can learn more by reading our company overview.
What is a health inspection?
In many countries, a public health authority will require that all food-serving establishments be inspected to ensure compliance with safe practices around food handling, storage, employee hygiene, and facility maintenance. The primary motivation for these inspections is reducing the risk of foodborne illness for both patrons and staff. In the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has developed the Food Code, which is commonly used as a blueprint for food service inspections by local health departments across the country.
A food service facility is usually visited for a routine inspection once every 9 to 12 months. If the facility is deemed to pose a higher risk for foodborne illness, based on factors like its cuisine or historical performance, it may get inspected more frequently.
An inspector who visits food service facilities will record various details about each visit in a report. These details often include the name and location of the business being inspected, the date of inspection, the reason for the inspection, and observations about how well the facility adheres to your health department's requirements for food safety protocol. When the inspector sees something improper, they'll note that as a violation of your local food code. The number of violations noted, as well as the severity of those violations, may determine the overall score (sometimes called a grade or result) assigned to an inspection.
Who is responsible for conducting health inspections?
In the US, Canada, and UK, health inspections are performed by a local health department. A health department operates in a jurisdiction which could be a specific metro area, a county, or a larger region such as a province or state.
In the US, there are over 2,500 local health departments, and each one uses its own food code to determine how to evaluate food safety practices and sets its own policies for scoring inspections and publishing inspection reports. While the FDA provides guidance in the form of the Food Code, local health departments will typically adopt and customize that guidance to meet their area's needs and preferences. As a result, there is a lack of standardization: it's not possible to make a reliable, direct comparison between inspections in different jurisdictions. Not only do the underlying food codes vary, but differences in inspector training and enforcement behavior can compound the issue further.
Why does health inspection data matter?
As academic research has shown, health inspections and the public disclosure of their results lead to better outcomes for both consumers and food service businesses. By using this data, consumers can make educated decisions about where to eat, while businesses are motivated to maintain clean, safe environments to protect their patrons and staff.
Based on recent research that we summarized in a whitepaper, approximately 79% of Americans live in jurisdictions that proactively publish food service inspection reports via an online portal. Out of these jurisdictions, approximately 63% of them summarize their inspection results using a consumer-facing score.
Where does Hazel get its data from?
We collect data from local health departments through online data collection technology tailored to each health department's publication method (online search portal, API, file download, etc.). Our automated collection methods are more cost-effective and faster for health departments compared to the public records requests which could otherwise be necessary to access this information.
What information is published on the Yelp platform?
Yelp publishes data from Hazel, and in some cases directly from health departments, using the Local Inspector Value-Entry Specification (LIVES) standard format. For a given food service facility, its inspection history will be provided; these records include attributes such as the date of visit, score, inspection type, and violations cited for each past inspection. Please refer to Yelp's LIVES documentation page for more details.
When available, the Yelp platform will show the inspection scores as provided by each health department.
How should I interpret a health inspection score?
As noted above, local health departments set their own food codes and other policies, and one of the effects of this system is the lack of a standardized scoring methodology. Depending on where you live or work, you may have seen these scores presented in some of the following ways:
- a letter grade (A, B, or C)
- a number grade (where 100 is a perfect score, and points are subtracted per violation)
- a demerit count (where 0 is a perfect score, and points are added per violation)
- a categorical system like pass/fail, green/red/yellow, or satisfactory/unsatisfactory
If you're not familiar with any of these systems, you may live in an area where your local health department does not publish an overall score for inspections.
If you have questions about the score assigned by a health department, we advise you to refer to their own guidance on how to interpret their specific scoring system. For instance, you can view information on New York City's grading system on their website. Because scoring isn't standardized nationwide, two inspection scores given by two different health departments may look the same but have somewhat different meanings.
What can I do if I see health inspection data that looks wrong on Yelp?
Hazel's data is collected directly from the information published online by health departments, totaling more than two million inspections each year. From time to time, errors in our software or on health department websites will cause something to be collected improperly, despite our best efforts to monitor for these problems proactively. We're grateful for your help in fixing any problems that get past our quality control, so that Yelp users can get the best information possible.
As a first step, we recommend that you double-check the health department website. If the problem that you're seeing on Yelp is also occurring on the health department's website, we may not be able to fix the problem. However, you can get in touch with the health department and ask them to resolve the issue. Once the data is shown correctly on their website, Hazel's data collection technology can often apply the same fix automatically.
If you're seeing a discrepancy between Hazel's data and the health department website, please contact our support team. To help us respond more effectively, be sure to include the URL of the health department's report, the Yelp URL, and the name and street address of the business.
Why is the most recent inspection for a business not appearing on Yelp?
The process of making health inspection information available on Yelp has several steps.
- First, the health inspector has to complete their report and submit it to their health department.
- There may be a delay — lasting hours, days, or even weeks — before the report is published online, depending on how the health department operates.
- Once the report is published online, Hazel's data collection technology typically retrieves the information within 24-48 hours; our data is sent to Yelp shortly afterwards.
- Additional quality control measures may, in some cases, result in further delays before the information is shown on Yelp.
When the health department, Hazel, and Yelp are all working quickly, the latest inspection for a business should appear on Yelp within a week. In practice, we find that the source of most delays is the lag time before the health department posts their report online; you can refer to our whitepaper for an in-depth analysis. If your health department doesn't post their reports quickly, we encourage you to speak with them or your local government officials to advocate for improving the way they publish data — the faster the reports are published, the sooner you and the rest of the general public can benefit from them.
If an inspection report has been published on a health department website more than two weeks ago and isn't appearing on Yelp, please contact our support team. To help us respond more effectively, be sure to include the URL of the health department's report, the Yelp URL, and the name and street address of the business.
Why isn't any health inspection data available for some restaurants on Yelp?
Although many areas of the US are served by health departments that publish their data online, around 20% of the population is not as fortunate. We aren't able to send Yelp any data for such “offline” jurisdictions. If you'd like your health department's data to be made available online, we encourage you to speak with them or your local government officials.
There are also a few health departments which do publish reports online but don't include sufficient details. If both an inspection score and specific violation details are missing from a report, such data is considered too incomplete to show on Yelp.
In a few rare instances, a health department may have their data online, but Hazel hasn't added the website to our automated data collection system. This situation could occur if the website has major issues that prevent us from collecting data accurately, or if the website is brand-new and we aren't aware that it exists. If this is the case, we'd like to hear from you. Please contact our support team to suggest new health department websites for us to cover.
If you're not seeing a health inspection for a particular restaurant on Yelp, but nearby locations do have their data on Yelp, you may have found a location that we haven't covered yet. It could be a brand-new restaurant, or there might be an issue with data collection. Please refer to the previous question for more details on this scenario.