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Cities Ranked by Dirty Restaurants

Consumer Group's 'Dirty Dining' Report: Unhealthy Towns or Tough Inspectors?

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"The result in L.A. County has been a 20% reduction in food-borne illness," Klein says. "Right now, a poor inspection is a hidden shame for a restaurateur. With public grading, food safety comes out of the shadows and becomes a priority for the restaurant, the same way a four-star rating from the Zagat Guide would be."

And consumers pay attention. Klein says that in Los Angeles, only 3% of consumers say they'd eat at a C-grade restaurant. And restaurants that got a C saw revenues dip by 1%, while those that got an A saw their income rise by 5.7%.

Mary Adolf, president of the solutions, products, and services group of the National Restaurant Association, warns that health inspections provide only a snapshot of what's going on in a restaurant at a specific point in time.

"Ninety-nine percent of critical violations are corrected before the inspector leaves the restaurant," Adolf tells WebMD. "That is important."

Adolf says the National Restaurant Association supports a method of restaurant health-inspection reporting that is standardized across the U.S.

"Whether it is a letter grade or some other method, it needs to be standardized so it can be truly meaningful, and inspectors need to be trained against those standards," she says. "And these standards should be based on the latest FDA Food Code."

Are restaurants really dirtier than private homes? Klein notes that over 40% of food-borne illness can be traced to restaurants, vs. 22% traced to private homes.

The problem isn't that dining out is dirty, Klein concedes. The same sloppiness that sickens one or two people in a private home at can sicken dozens or more people at a restaurant. And you can't take the same precautions at a restaurant that you can at home.

But Adolf notes that restaurants have a very good safety record.

"Every day, 133 million Americans eat away from home, yet there is a very low number of reported food illness outbreaks from restaurants," she says.

Dirty Dining Cities Ranked

Here's the CSPI's ranking of restaurants in 20 U.S. cities. It's not an entirely fair contest. Some cities were more reluctant to report than others were and did not provide routine reports on all 30 restaurants requested. Baltimore, for example, did well in the rankings but withheld the requested information on 16 of 30 restaurants.

The ranking here lists cities according to a weighted value assigning demerits for major and minor violations as reported by city health inspectors. The "best" cities may, in reality, simply have the most lenient inspectors; the "worst" cities may have the strictest inspectors.

The CSPI's city rankings, from "worst" to "best":

  • Austin, Texas: 58 violations in 30 restaurants
  • Boston: 63 violations in 30 restaurants
  • Milwaukee, 27 violations in 20 restaurants
  • Colorado Springs, Colo.: 46 violations in 30 restaurants
  • Kansas City, Mo.: 41 violations in 30 restaurants
  • Pittsburgh: 40 violations in 30 restaurants
  • Denver: 35 violations in 30 restaurants
  • Las Vegas: 30 violations in 25 restaurants
  • Washington, D.C.: 27 violations in 25 restaurants
  • New York: 32 violations in 30 restaurants
  • Atlanta: 19 violations in 20 restaurants
  • Portland: 25 violations in 27 restaurants
  • Baltimore: 14 violations in 14 restaurants
  • Minneapolis, Minn.: 31 violations in 29 restaurants
  • Chicago: 22 violations in 30 restaurants
  • St. Louis: 17 violations in 27 restaurants
  • Seattle: 16 violations in 30 restaurants
  • Philadelphia: 16 violations in 23 restaurants
  • San Francisco: 15 violations in 30 restaurants
  • Tucson, Ariz.: 14 violations in 29 restaurants
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