Minneapolis has published its restaurant inspections online for all the world to see, becoming the first agency in the state to do so.
Until the city launched the new website — which it formally unveiled on Thursday — Minnesota was the only state where no agencies posted inspections online. The move was a long time in the making. City officials said in 2016 and earlier that food inspections would soon be readily available to the public. Since then, online food inspection reports have become common across the United States.
Minneapolis’ website shows the results from inspections of dozens of restaurants, cafeterias, coffee shops and other facilities, with sometimes stomach-turning details on rat infestations, moldy beer taps and other violations. The city assigned each inspection a grade between one and 100, with extra penalties for the most serious violations — such as improper food temperatures and employees not washing hands.
Within hours of being launched, the website was so popular that it overwhelmed the servers and stopped working. The city’s IT staff was trying to resolve the issue on Thursday afternoon.
As of early 2019, more than three-quarters of the U.S. population lived in areas where the data are posted, according to Hazel Analytics, a Seattle-based firm that compiles inspection data. The Twin Cities was alone among the country’s 20 largest metro areas in not posting inspection data.
Cindy Weckwerth, Minneapolis’ director of environmental health, said restaurant inspections are among the most commonly requested data from the city. A University of Minnesota survey of State Fair visitors found almost universal agreement that food inspections should be more readily available, Weckwerth said.
“We’ve kind of known there was a general interest,” Weckwerth said. “We were one of the last large cities to have some sort of an online tool.”
Restaurateur Kim Bartmann, whose portfolio includes Barbette, Pat’s Tap, and Red Stag Supperclub, said she was surprised the reports weren’t posted online earlier. But she knew they would eventually become available — particularly given the amount of food research, innovation and production happening in the area.
“It’s about cleanliness and food, which is about people’s health,” Bartmann said. “So it’s inherently ... an important topic.”
She cautioned, however, that the reports can be easily sensationalized.
“There could be something that occurs randomly or something that occurred on the one day the inspector came in, and then it gets blown out of proportion,” Bartmann said. “Conversely, somebody could be doing something on an ongoing basis that does endanger people and it gets missed.”
The city included a disclaimer on its website that health inspections are a “snapshot in time” akin to an annual doctor’s checkup.
“Even a business that’s doing everything right can have a few violations,” said Minneapolis environmental health community liaison Leslie Foreman. “So if they have a few violations, maybe see what they are and then look” at the follow-up inspections.
“There’s more to the story than just whatever the score happens to be,” Foreman added.
Ben Wogsland, the director of government relations at Hospitality Minnesota, said it will be critical for the city to help interpret the records going forward.
“If there’s one issue here, it’s just making sure that the public actually understands what the information means,” Wogsland said.
The site (minneapolismn.gov/health/inspections/foodinspections) allows users to look up reports individually by restaurant. Logan Ebeling, a health inspector who worked to develop the online tool, said they soon expect to release bulk data that will allow for more in-depth analysis.