When I was trying to come up with a name for this project, I knew I wanted something memorable. After many brainstorming sessions and some help from friends and family, I finally decided on “No A? Walk Away!” The name was available online, it was easy to remember, and it fit the project. Not only did the name fit all of the criteria, but it also rhymed! However, my research found that, technically, a restaurant with a food safety score in the range of 86-89 is just as risky as a restaurant with a grade of 90 or above. Does this mean “No A? Walk Away!” is an oversimplification? I don’t think so.
For my part of my research, I read Results of Routine Restaurant Inspections Can Predict Outbreaks of Foodborne Illness: The Seattle-King County Experience. This is what the authors say about the risk of low food safety scores:
Restaurants with poor inspection scores and violations of proper temperature controls of potentially hazardous foods were, respectively, five and ten times more likely to have outbreaks than restaurants with better results. (Kobayashi, et al. 586)
Restaurants with an overall score of less than 86 were about five times more likely to have an outbreak than those with better scores. … Several specific violations significantly increased the risk of an outbreak, including any improper food protection practice, especially improper temperature control of potentially hazardous foods, improper storage and handling of equipment, and any “critical” violation. (Kobayashi, et al. 589)
To summarize, restaurants with a score of less than 86 are about five times more likely to have an outbreak, but restaurants with violations of proper temperature controls are about ten times more likely to have an outbreak. This means even if the restaurant is in the “safe” range of 86-100, a temperature violation means you are about ten times more likely to contract a foodborne illness. I have noticed most restaurants with a food safety score in the range of 86 to 89 have a temperature or other critical violation. This is why I recommend you only eat in restaurants with a score in the range of 90 to 100.
Most restaurants in the 90 to 100 range are making a concerted effort to keep the food safe. So, if you only have time to take a quick glance at the number or letter score, it is easiest to remember “No A? Walk Away!” However, if you do have time to take a longer look at the inspection report, I suggest you do. You may find the restaurant with a score of 89 has that score because hand washing posters weren’t on the wall or the dumpster was overflowing. Without these noncritical violations, the score would probably be in the range of 90 to 100.
I want to emphasize that this is only my opinion. Although I suggest you walk away if there isn’t an A, you may have a slightly higher tolerance for risk. I encourage you to learn the facts about food safety scores and make an educated decision for yourself.
What range of restaurant food safety scores do you find acceptable? Let me know in the comments.