New website lists the food code violations at every restaurant in Minneapolis

112eatery_CodeViolations.JPG
Screenshot from mplshealth.com
112 Eatery is the first restaurant to show up on Webster's comprehensive, alphabetical list.
In New York City, restaurants have to post letter grades that reflect their latest health department inspection. Ditto in San Francisco, though there the scores come on a 100-point scale.

In fact, in each of the 50 largest cities in the U.S., diners can check online to see if a food establishment racked up any code violations -- like, say, mouse droppings in the kitchen -- during its last inspection.

Except, says Tony Webster, in Minneapolis.

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Webster, a locally based open data researcher, decided to change that. In Minneapolis, the inspection results are public information, but accessing them requires putting in a data request with the city. That's a considerable hoop to jump through before making a dinner reservation. So Webster did it for you .

In February, he requested the city's database. After a few months of back-and-forth, he got the data on Monday, and launched the website, mplshealth.com, the next day.

The fully searchable site indexes inspection information from May 2011 to May 2013 for every food establishment in the city -- about "2,500 or 2,600," Webster says.

Because 2012 is the only full year for which he has data, Webster used it as his benchmark. Each restaurant page features a blue box on the upper right that tallies the establishment's "critical" violations for the year.

"I was surprised on both ends of the spectrum," Webster says. "A few of my favorite restaurants had a sickening number of critical, gag-worthy violations that I hope were addressed, while others seemed to pass their inspections with flying colors."

Webster cautions that some context is missing from the raw numbers. For instance, they don't show whether a restaurant has addressed the violations, and they can be misleading for restaurants with multiple licenses: A place with both restaurant and commercial kitchen licenses, like the French Meadow, might rack up more violations not because it's dirtier, but because it has more criteria to fulfill.

For Webster, "the website is a rough draft of something bigger." He plans to add maps and charts that analyze which neighborhoods have the most food violations.

He also notes that, if the city was more open about releasing data to web developers, more projects like this could happen. Chicago, for instance, has "a number of openly accessible streams of data," Webster wrote in an email, which allowed him to create an app that texts you if your car is towed. For months, he says, he's been asking for information on vacant and foreclosed homes for a data visualization project, but hasn't been able to get the city to fill his request.

"I have a lot of respect for the work that the city does in protecting public health and food safety," Webster wrote, continuing, "I'd really like to work directly with the city to make this a stronger and more useful application."

For its part, the city says getting the data online on its own has been "primarily a tech challenge," according to spokesperson Matt Laible. "Providing online reports is certainly something we'd like to do, and it's something we're evaluating as part of the roll-out of a new computer system down the line."

Webster's site is set up for direct search-by-name or surf-by-list, and is also mobile-accessible for on-the-go assessments. Get browsing, and in the comments, and let us know which results surprise you.

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12 comments
pr365mn
pr365mn

Thanks for great list...I am working for http://www.proweb365.com, a full web design firm in Minneapolis, MN. So, the list you suggested is really significant for all user in Minneapolis.

lisaeriksson
lisaeriksson

Just show me a letter grade please!   CA (and other places) have the right idea! 

Melissa Mj
Melissa Mj

I recall a place in NYC that had a $1,000 dessert (NOT a typo) that got cited/shut down due to rats/other violations. So, fancy overpriced places on this list don't surprise me. They seem to be the cheapest of the bunch who cut corners to increase profits.

Tony Webster
Tony Webster

I am! There are lots of fixes and improvements on my list, I was just anxious to get it online after waiting for the data for five months. :) Search will be improved, along with neighborhood maps, categorized violations, and some top violation lists. Thanks for the feedback!

Rajean Moone
Rajean Moone

I think this is an interesting website and looked around a bit. I wonder if the programmer is reading these comments. One suggestion I would have is adding a little more ability to target. Such as selecting restaurants in a particular neighborhood. Or for example of you type "Subway" you get a lot of Subway entries and have to click each to find the one by you. Overall, kudos to the website :)

Eli Lathrop
Eli Lathrop

I used to be a city inspector (yes, for MPLS) many years ago and yes, some fancy restaurants had more issues than a fast food place. Also, when I left, the city was implementing a new review software that would allow for those inspections to be searchable online. I guess that hasn't happened yet.

Maggie Strugala
Maggie Strugala

Its funny how all of the fancy over-priced places are on there. French Meadow is not a surprise to me. Whenever I leave the CC Club late at night, there are always mice running around in there. Suprised Red Dragon managed to stay off of the list.

FoodStoned
FoodStoned

Wow... saw this yesterday and I'm not so sure about it. There are a lot of issues that come up on those reports that the general public doesn't understand. In theory this is a good idea, but in practice I'm not so sure. Be advised that if you see that a restaurant that you want to go to has a few 'critical's' to be sure and read what they're all about before just skipping it out right.

Dave Eckblad
Dave Eckblad

Hard Times surprises me in how few citations they have. Mad props to running a tight ship.

swmnguy
swmnguy

@Dave Eckblad  No kidding.  That was the first place I looked up.  That building is almost impossible to keep up to standards.  I'm guessing the Inspections Department is showing them a lot of understanding.  Hopefully they've gotten newish cooling equipment.  I remember Ellen Hoyt in the late '80s / early '90s (the Mpls. Inspector who used to work that area) used to ride that operation pretty hard, but gave them passing scores as long as they made an effort.  She understood that the building itself was impossible to keep as clean as a new space, and that once there are cockroaches living in an 80 year-old wood-framed building, there is not correction possible.

But good on them for putting in the work.  That is hard, in a space like that.

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