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Kitchen photo via Dennis Wong
Kitchen photo via Dennis Wong

Like many restaurant goers, Seattle resident Sarah Schacht turned to Yelp last February when trying to find a place to dine with her family. The Ethiopian restaurant she picked seemed pretty good on the surface, with high marks on Yelp. But what she didn’t know is that the King County Board of Health had issued unsatisfactory scores in five out of six inspections, public information that she said was buried in the county’s antiquated Web site and not available on Yelp.

“If I would have known, I would have never stepped in there,” said Schacht, who was later hospitalized with a severe case of E. coli after eating at the restaurant. Now, Schacht, who happens to specialize in open government, is taking matters into her own hands.

She’s started a petition to overhaul the restaurant rating system at the King County Board of Health, looking to make the data more accessible to everyday consumers. She’s even volunteered to offer 30 hours of her time to the cause, given her expertise in open government. The petition notes:

Currently, King County Public Health (the agency that manages restaurant inspection ratings) has a website that hasn’t been upgraded since the early 2000’s, and a convoluted inspection ratings system that confuses consumers. None of these ratings are posted at restaurants. As a result, restaurants that don’t adhere to safety standards keep serving food to unknowing customers, and restaurants who are safe and clean don’t get rewarded for their work with an “A” rating.

Schacht tells GeekWire that the county’s system is “not meant for a mom with two kids trying to find a safe restaurant on their mobile app.” She’s also pushing the county to overhaul its rating system, instituting a basic “A, B, C” grading system and having those ratings posted on the doors of restaurants. And she wants to make the data accessible through review sites such as Yelp. San Francisco and other cities have already begun making restaurant inspection information available via the online review site, but Seattle (via King County) has yet to do so.

Schacht, who also contracted E. coli in 1993 from a Jack in the Box restaurant, wants that to change. Since Yelp is a consumer review site, she said it makes perfect sense to incorporate the scientific data collected by restaurant inspectors, data that is already readily available.

Started last week, the petition already has more than 800 signatures. “I couldn’t wait around and hear about other people getting sick,” said Schacht when asked why she started the petition.

Here’s more of her story from our media partners at KING 5 in which Schacht notes that information on the King County Web site is pretty “dense” and “not very user friendly.”

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