Marion County launches online restaurant inspection program - 13 WTHR Indianapolis

Marion County launches online restaurant inspection program

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Bob Segall/13 Investigates 

Marion County - Does your favorite restaurant serve up lots of health violations? Now you can see for yourself.

For the first time, the Marion County Health Department is putting thousands of inspection reports online.

After eighteen months of development, the department has unveiled its online restaurant inspection database  to give consumers 24-hour access to restaurant safety information.

Inspection reports for all of the county's 2,552 licensed restaurants are included in the online database, according to Tom Beck, a business analyst for the health department who helped design and develop the system.

"This is a website that's really neat for consumers," Beck said. "They will see the same inspection report the restaurateur received, and there's virtually hundreds of thousands of pieces of data."

The online system also includes food safety inspection reports for Marion County taverns, grocery stores, bakeries and schools.

MCHD director Virginia Caine said the system was created after 13 Investigates showed county residents had poor access to inspection records that reveal serious safety violations at many area restaurants.

"Channel 13 actually did a survey that had consumers identify that this was an issue that was important to them," Caine said. "We want to have our consumers way more knowledgeable and this is an easier way to access the info from our department."

WTHR's Food For Thought investigation showed food inspectors found more than 22,000 safety violations at metro-area restaurants in 2006, and about 9,000 of those were critical violations, serious problems that could make customers sick.

But in most counties, finding out about those violations has been difficult.  Inspection reports are usually filed away in the basements of local health departments, and on nights and weekends (when consumers are most likely to visit a restaurant) the inspection reports have been off limits because that's when health departments are traditionally closed.

After the investigation aired, thousands of WTHR viewers participated in a survey that showed an overwhelming majority of respondents favored increased access to restaurant inspection reports, including 78% who wanted to see inspection reports posted online.

By implementing an online system, the health department is now providing round-the-clock access to anyone who wants to research restaurant safety.

"I am ecstatic," Caine said in a news release. "This is a proactive step, developing another tool to educate and make the community healthier."

Users can access specific restaurant data on the new online system by entering an establishment's name or address. A partial name or street name can also be entered to help locate a restaurant. The site features mapping capabilities to locate each establishment and provides twelve months of inspection reports for each location. MCHD officials say the system will eventually show three years of inspection data for the nearly 4,500 licensed food service providers in Marion County.

Staff from the health department's CIS (computer information systems) department reviewed online food inspection websites from cities such as Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Seattle and Toronto before designing the online database for Indianapolis, and they say Marion County's new database is one of the best in the nation.

"This is really, really cool," Beck said. "The research and mapping features are going to be among the most unique in the country. People are going to be amazed with this resource."

The online inspection database is available here.

Marion County joins other Indiana counties such as Hamilton County, Delaware County and Tippecanoe County in providing online accessibility to restaurant inspections.

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