Using technology to keep people from getting sick (or worse)

When going out to eat, sometimes a little extra information can keep you healthy. Often, how restaurant food is prepared is the underlying cause of what many people call “food poisoning.” According to the Center for Disease Control, roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) get sick from foodborne diseases each year. Of those, 128,000 people are hospitalized, and 3,000 die.

The City and County of San Francisco partnered with the restaurant review platform, Yelp, and Code for America to better expose their restaurant inspection data and create a safer, healthier dining experience. By making the Public Health Department’s data more visible, restaurants became more accountable to their scores, which would drive them to improve their food safety practices to attract customers.

Unlocking the power of existing data

The San Francisco Department of Public Health recognized the wealth of data it was already required by law to collect through its Retail Food Safety program. Each year, Environmental Health Inspectors were inspecting 7,000 food facilities around the City and giving them a score based on how well they followed health code regulations. 

Yet this information wasn’t very visible to the millions of people dining in local restaurants. In order to make their data as useful as possible, the City focused on what users wanted. In this case, that meant meeting people where they were: on Yelp’s restaurant review platform.  

At the same time, one of the Mayor’s goals was to be a leader for using data and innovation. Serving as the Chair of the Technology and Innovation Task Force at the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Mayor Lee wanted make sure that what they did in San Francisco was available to other cities to follow. 

From this, the City decided to create a data standard, or an agreed format for storing, organizing and structuring data on Yelp. By promoting a standardized way to represent this data, any interested government could share their restaurant inspection scores, promote improved public health, and empower informed decision-making.

By making often hard-to-find government information more widely available to innovative companies like Yelp, we can make government more transparent and improve public health outcomes for our residents through the power of technology.

— Mayor Ed Lee, City of San Francisco

This open data resource will also support our restaurant industry. Creating sunshine on this data will motivate some restaurants to improve food safety processes.

— Barbara Garcia, Director of San Francisco Department of Public Health

LIVES was originally drafted by John Boiles (Yelp Inc.) with feedback, improvements, and corrections from:

  • Andrew Nicklin, New York City Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications
  • Joel Natividad, Ontodia
  • Vivek Patel, Yelp Inc.
  • Parthasarathy Sundaram, Yelp Inc.
  • Yoann Roman, Yelp Inc.
  • Mike Ghaffary, Yelp Inc.
  • Mark Headd, City of Philadelphia
  • Chris Vein, White House