When we go out to eat, we assume that the restaurants we eat at are clean, safe, and healthy. State and local governments across the county inspect them on a regular basis to make sure that restaurants are maintaining safe practices.
Unfortunately, results of restaurant health inspections aren’t always published prominently. And when they are, those reports don’t always provide detailed information about the inspection. Did it have any faults? Were they serious? What makes something an “A” or “Pass” rating versus a “C” or “Fail” rating?
The problem is that it’s not always easy for consumer to find this information—particularly when people are out and about, trying to find a place to eat. Thankfully, there’s some great movement towards using this information to help consumers make informed decisions.
HDScores is an in-alpha app for the iOS and Android systems that lets users get information on health inspections at nearby restaurants. Impressively, HDScores gathers health inspection data from across the country. It incorporates data from 530,000 establishments, and has access to over three million inspection reports.
The app uses a series of bots to collect the data and import it into HDScores’ database. Its developers use a variety of methods including XPath and regular expressions to build a custom program for each jurisdiction. This allows the team to get data regardless of the system being used. They also convert data from older CSV and Flash-based systems to the new LIVES (Local Inspector Value-entry Specification) standard.
HDScores will first focus on the consumer market. Currently in private alpha, the app helps users find restaurant inspection data using their phones. When you open the app, it gives you the option to search for an establishment by name or see a list of establishments near you. Clicking on a location gives you information about the restaurant’s inspection history, and clicking on the each inspection will give you detailed information about it, including violations, the notes from the inspector, and if any of the violations were critical. The app also allows you to save your favorite restaurants for easier access.
Eventually, the team would also like to cater to both governments and businesses. Because they have access to data from multiple cities, the team believes they can provide valuable predictive analytics tools to local health departments. Additionally, because they’re gathering information from health departments as soon as they’re updated, they can also provide business referral services. For example, if a health inspector finds roaches at a restaurant and includes that in the report, HDScores could alert a pest control company, allowing them to promote their service to a business that needs it.
HDScores’ iOS app will launch ad free in mid-August, with the Android app launching this fall.
When you open the website, it displays a searchable map of nearby restaurants. It also lists nearby establishments. Clicking on a restaurant yields detailed information about the last few inspections. The app also uses helpful icons to distinguish between critical violations, repeat violations, or violations that were corrected during the inspection. The site is also designed responsively, and can use the GPS on the user’s mobile device to find nearby establishments.
The website is open source, and comprised of a modular trio of programs: a scraper, an API, and the website itself, which is built atop the public API. Their scraper extracts data from HealthSpace, a vendor to health departments across the United States and Canada, so it would be trivial to pop up similar websites for other HealthSpace clients, which notably includes the states of Ohio, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.
The work of HDScores and the Code for America Hampton Roads Brigade is poised to do a great deal to help people make informed decisions about where to eat, based on doing the hard work of turning open information into open data.