Think your neighborhood takeout joint might be kind of gross? Don't just take some Yelper's word for it: soon, the amateur restaurant reviews site will be posting official restaurant hygiene scores from public health departments in San Francisco and New York, with other cities to follow.
"This is huge news in itself," Yelp's CEO Jeremy Stoppelman wrote on the company blog this morning. "But perhaps the bigger news is what we’ve created to enable this new business attribute: a new open data standard — the 'Local Inspector Value-entry Specification' or, simply, LIVES."
The clever acronym was conceived by Yelp and the city hall tech departments of San Francisco and New York, along with some encouragement from the White House. San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee will also announce the news today at the Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C. where he serves as the chairman of a technology and innovation task force.
While Yelp played a crucial role in creating the new open standard for restaurant health data, other restaurant listing sites will be able to access and display the information as well. Meaning a restaurant's inspection score could eventually show up right on their Google results. The LIVES standard also opens the door so any city with restaurant inspection scores or grades can make that information publicly available online. (Some cities like Austin already do this in lesser detail on clunky city government sites, which is like the Internet equivalent of hiding your inspection card in the walk-in freezer.)
The service is already live for several businesses in San Francisco and the health inspection scores from New York City are expected to start showing up in the next few weeks, with Chicago and Philadelphia to follow. Although San Francisco uses a 1-100 rating scale, a representative from Yelp tells SFist that users in New York will see health department scores listed according to the A, B, C, "Fail" or "Pending" letter grade scale already posted prominently outside New York eateries. Some New York restauranteurs are already fretting that the letter grades are "arbitrary and unfair" (you know, like Yelp ratings) and could confuse potential diners. On the other hand, a 2005 study in Los Angeles County found that visibly posting the letter grades led to a decrease in reports of foodborne illnesses and increased revenue for A-graded restaurants.
On a test run of the service, SFist discovered that our favorite neighborhood Cheese Steak Shop has a 92 rating out of 100 and received a troublingly vague violation for "rodents/roaches/flies/other animals" back in May 2012. But we're sure that was just a fluke.
Update: In an update this morning, Yelp is encouraging users in cities not included in this morning's announcement to point their local health department officials to foodinspectiondata.us where they can sign up to be included on the new standard.