County Unveils New Food Safety Rating System

Today, Public Health – Seattle & King County unveiled new signs that food inspectors will place in restaurant windows as part of its broader strategy to ensure King County remains a leader in accurate and transparent food safety ratings.

According to officials, King County is the first county in the United States to base its food safety ratings on four inspections rather than a single snapshot, better reflecting a restaurant’s performance over time. Public Health is also the first agency to use side-by-side peer inspections as a training tool so inspectors can better understand how they reached their conclusions, which is a proven approach that will increase consistency.

“We are once again putting King County at the forefront of innovative public health practices, making food safety ratings more accurate, consistent and transparent,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “Our new approach supports our region’s diverse, thriving restaurant scene and helps customers make better informed decisions when dining out.”

This new approach takes it a step forward by providing customers more than a simple pass/fail measurement so they can see how well a restaurant practices food safety beyond meeting the minimum standards.

Easy-to-understand emojis based on improved data

Public Health – Seattle & King County conducted extensive outreach in eight languages to ensure the emojis for the window signs can be easily understood regardless of what language someone speaks or how well they read.

The data that informs the new food safety ratings will also be more accurate under the new system.

Public Health worked with Stanford Law School’s Daniel How to improve inspector consistency. Together, they published an article in the Boston Review that found the net effect of Public Health sending two food inspectors randomly assigned to the same inspection reduced the variability in safety ratings.

The approach also had a positive impact on the culture within Public Health’s Food Protection Program. Food inspectors said working in pairs helps them learn from their peers.

“The fact that our staff improved what was already a high-performing division shows they have embraced the principle of continuous improvement,” said Patty Hayes, Director of Public Health – Seattle & King County. “I am proud of the extraordinary work that our team has done to work with restaurant owners and the community to deliver a system for food safety ratings that has the potential to be a national model.”