OGDEN — Other than word-of-mouth stories in the community, local restaurant diners usually had no idea about the level of food safety at their favorite eateries.
But since May, restaurant inspection reports have been available on the Weber-Morgan Health Department’s website.
By keyword search, you can quickly call up summaries of the last few years of inspection reports about specific restaurants. Or try searching by street name — 25th Street, for instance — and a list of inspected restaurants is generated.
The results display details of any “critical” or “non-critical” violations found by inspectors and what the restaurant did to correct the problems.
Most other Utah counties have posted restaurant inspection reports online for years. The Weber-Morgan Environmental Health staff proposed it five years ago, but the health board decided against it.
This spring, Environmental Health Director Michela Harris recommended it again.
“We were seeing a pretty steady stream of records requests from the public and media,” Harris said.
Staff members had to make copies for record requesters, which was time consuming.
The health board was amenable this time, and the vendor that hosts the restaurant inspections database added online access capability to the system.
“We haven’t changed the method of inspection, we haven’t changed the frequency,” Harris said. “It’s just easier for the public to see a history and see corrections that (restaurants) have made. It’s a better system.”
Health board chairman Neil Garner said that because so many people now search online for restaurant information, the board decided it’s important to help searchers find “information that is reputable and from official sources.”
Social media posts “can be detrimental to a restaurant just because they (a complaining customer) had a bad experience,” Garner said.
Now, residents can review inspectors’ findings and see what a restaurant has done to correct the problems.
“I think we’re getting a lot of public interest,” Garner said. “We’re just getting on board with it.”
“We don’t want to be an antagonist with the restaurants, and we think it’s going to work out great. And we don’t want any food-borne outbreaks.”
Restaurants may receive notices of critical violations that “if left uncorrected are more likely than other violations to contribute to food contamination, illness or environmental health hazard,” according to the health department.
Non-critical violations are those that “if left uncorrected could lead to more serious problems but not pose an immediate threat to food safety.”
Items checked by inspectors include food storage and cooking temperatures, dish and handwashing sanitation, sanitation of food contact surfaces and utensils, and proper workings of water connections and drains to prevent sewage backups.
For example, one North Ogden restaurant has been cited with multiple critical violations in its last 10 inspections. Problems included dishes and silverware still dirty after sanitation, inadequate sanitizing processes, plumbing defects and cold food stored at unacceptably high temperatures.
Inspectors cited one Ogden restaurant with critical violations on 16 of its last 19 inspections.
Many violations are cleared up during an inspection, but restaurants with chronic critical violations get more frequent follow-up inspections.
Harris urged residents to review the inspection reports online and call the health department with any questions.
“Don’t make assumptions,” she said. “If you have questions, call us and walk through an inspection with somebody.”
To get answers about an inspection or to report suspected cases of food-borne illness, call the health department at 801 399-7160 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.