Web site rats on NYC restaurants
New York theater-goers who drop by Sardi’s after a show now know, without setting foot in the popular restaurant, that its last inspection showed no health code violations. That information can be obtained from the New York City Department of Health (NYCDOH) Restaurant Inspection, Recording and Reporting System (RIRRS), which is accessible through the city’s web site (www.ci.nyc.ny.us).
Launched in May, the site provides health inspection records for more than 18,000 restaurants in New York and its five boroughs, allowing users to make informed decisions about where to dine. Users can query a restaurant by typing in the first three letters of the name and immediately view the violations for which the eatery has been cited, if there are any. The RIRRS includes details about each restaurant, such as dates of its last health inspection, methods of food preparation and storage, and past sanitation violations and closings.
The site was developed as part of an initiative to do more community-based public health planning, according to Ed Carubis, assistant commissioner of management information services for NYCDOH. Because of the popularity of restaurant inspection inquiries, developing the web site was a natural step. “There has always been a lot of demand for this information,” Carubis says. “People love the subject.”
In developing the system, NYCDOH worked closely with the New York State Restaurant Association and other related organizations to gather information. The department then uploaded its own inspection records, which are updated regularly as new inspections are conducted.
Each restaurant receives an annual visit from one of the department’s 100 inspectors. Approximately three weeks after an inspection is concluded, the new report is available online. In the first two weeks of the site’s launch, it received more than 3 million hits and very positive feedback. “The most powerful aspect of the site is that it allows the public to directly [affect] food service,” Carubis says. “It increases accountability, and restaurant owners are driven to improve their practices.”
The department began discussion of the site last year and began the technical development this past spring. It was developed by locally based Information Builders. The health department’s site is the first of several initiatives in the city to provide online services. Those eventually will include online payment of parking tickets, taxes and water bills.