First posted on October 8, 2009

On our recent trip to San Francisco, my husband and I stayed at the Union Street Inn, a Bed and Breakfast located in the Cow Hollow district. We chose the Inn based on its excellent reviews on TripAdvisor.com.

When we presented ourselves at breakfast the morning after we arrived, I was delighted to see that the Inn had achieved a score of 100% on its most recent food service inspection. But – even though I am a food safety microbiologist – it hadn’t occurred to me to look into the food inspection history of the Inn before we made our reservation.

Most cities and counties in the developed countries carry out some form of routine restaurant inspection. Many local health departments post these inspection results on their web sites. Some jurisdictions – San DiegoLos Angeles and many counties in the United Kingdom, for example – go farther, and require that restaurants post their most recent inspection score on or near the front door (known as “Scores on Doors”). And a few agencies – including New South Wales, Australia – take the “Name and Shame” approach, publishing the names of food establishments that fail inspection.

Surprisingly, San Francisco does not require its restaurants to post their inspection scores. Instead, consumers must visit the web site of the San Francisco Department of Public Health to learn how their favorite restaurants stack up.

We stopped in at The Real Food Company, a local market and deli, for a snack one day.

I was favorably impressed with the care taken by a store employee in handling raw poultry as he loaded it into the rotisserie.

According to the San Francisco Department of Public Health, the store was inspected on September 3rd, just a few days before our visit. Real Food received an “A” rating, with a score of 90 points (out of 100). A score of 89 points would have meant a “B” rating. The inspector noted three violations – two “moderate risk” and one “low risk.” UPDATE: The store was last inspected on January 13, 2012, and “achieved” a score of only 81.

There has been a lot of on-line discussion recently on various food safety blogs about restaurant sanitation, “Scores on Doors” programs, and other food service issues. BarfBlog, in the United States and Le Blog d’Albert Amgar in France are both regular and responsible contributors to this topic.

I wonder, though, how many people take notice of restaurant inspection reports? Does anybody care?