THE LOOP — A new website being unveiled this weekend at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago aims to reduce instances of foodborne illness by helping consumers make informed decisions about the restaurants they patronize.
Dining Grades converts data from public health inspection scores into a letter grade system. Users can view restaurants and their safety records on a searchable map.
Because food inspection rating systems differ across state lines, Dr. Harlan Stueven said he wanted to create a consistent rating scheme using pure, unbiased data.
“We all presume that we’re going to a place where we’re going to eat safe food and we know that’s not the case,” Stueven said.
Stueven has seen a lot of people sickened by foodborne illnesses in his 40 years of practice. After serving as a flight surgeon and environmental health consultant in the U.S. Air Force, the emergency room physician then worked in the Milwaukee area before coming up with the idea for Dining Grades.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in six Americans gets sick each year by consuming unsafe food or drinks, and 60 percent of outbreaks were traced to sit-down restaurants.
Chicago does not have enough food-safety inspectors for all of its restaurants, according to an audit released by Inspector General Joseph Ferguson last fall.
In addition to the letter grades the public can see, people can rate a restaurant or report it for suspected food illness. These claims will be passed on to the relevant health department as well as the restaurant if they are a member of Dining Grades. Restaurants will also have access to food safety resources if they pay a $99 annual fee to the website.
In addition to Chicago, Dining Grades includes restaurants around the U.S. and in parts of Canada. It is constantly expanding to new locations and will be available for restaurants in the United Kingdom soon.
In the future, Dining Grades will offer displayable decal stickers to restaurants with a three-year A rating.