Mobile Applications

Georgia app to curb dirty restaurants, hospitals & schools

In September 2014, Chris Peoples and Jake Van Dyke launched a new app, What The Health, to make it easy for customers in their native Georgia to find health inspection scores for local restaurants. Now, after a minefield of baffling different state and country laws, this app is available across 10 states and provides information on hospital and school sanitation scores too. Its eventual aim is to cover the entire US, then the globe and become integrated with Google Places or Yelp.

This is an ambitious plan but what makes it really interesting is how giving consumers this information could quietly influence the way health records are published – and eventually – how catering establishments are run. We catch-up with the founders to learn more.

Are restaurants in Georgia especially dirty? It wouldn’t occur to me to search for an eating place in this way – how did the idea come about?

We originally formed the idea for the app during a conversation about health inspection scores. We were in the downtown area of Augusta, GA, where you expect to find dilapidated buildings and lower health inspection scores. Someone made the comment, “I wonder how well these restaurants do on their health inspections?” We went on the Georgia Department of Public Health’s website to find the health inspection scores for nearby restaurants. When we realised how difficult it was to answer our question and navigate the website, we decided to make an app that does just that.

There are over 30,000 restaurants in the state of Georgia. The Health Department is proficient enough in performing surprise inspections to make sure these establishments are safe. A large portion of the restaurants have excellent sanitation practices. There are also a high percentage of establishments that fail inspections low enough to make you worry.  

You started in September 2014 and now you’re in 10 states, how long before you reach your goal of being in every state in the US?  

We are working hard to expand to more states quickly and efficiently. We want to take our time and do it the right way. Health inspection reports are public information. The main issue is that many counties and/or state’s public health departments neglect to publish this data. We have come across websites that have been untouched since 2002 and earlier.     

If you are aggregating the findings, are you finding some states are cleaner than others?

Some states appear more sanitary based on health inspection scores but that question is debatable. For example, the state of South Carolina have immaculate health inspection scores… all of them. If you view a list of 100 nearby establishments in the state, almost every facility received an “A” grade. In the state of Florida and the city of Washington D.C., the health inspection grades are vastly different.

Health inspection standards differ from state to state.  Maybe the local laws are different about certain violations?  It is similar to comparing apples to oranges when you try to correlate inspections from different jurisdictions.

Is this mostly being used in restaurants? I imagine it would be more difficult to get reports for hospitals and schools?  

The Health Department for each state varies on which establishments their inspectors examine. For example, in the state of Georgia, the Department of Public Health publishes data for all restaurant establishments, hospitals, schools, childcare facilities, assisted living facilities, mobile food services, and even public swimming facilities. The app was originally intended for food establishments and restaurants, but when we saw this information in the data, we decided to show it in the app(s).

How many organisations are included in the app and how many users do you have?

We have information for over 240,000 establishments in 10 states and including Washington, DC. We have over 100,000 downloads with all the different versions of What The Health combined.

What challenges and opportunities are you facing in expanding the reach of this app?

Each state and/or county’s health department uses a different system for their health inspections reports. There is no centralised format or location for this information. The state of Florida uses one format for the entire state. In the state of Georgia, inspections are performed and published by individual counties. There are 150 counties doing inspections in our home state. Many of them utilise a similar format. Some counties may decide to change the format of their websites and reports. We will then have to make the necessary corrections to adapt to the new format.

As the app is free, how are you funding all this?

We are funding What The Health with advertising. We want the app to be free for users.  Additionally this helps keep our servers running so we can continue to collect the health inspection data and make it accessible to our users.

Do you see apps like yours driving changes in the way catering establishments are run?

Yes. In some regions, there are laws that do not require a restaurant to post their inspection information. An establishment can receive a history of reports that barely pass inspection standards. Since most customers will never see the report, the place has no motivation to improve. Other areas may require a restaurant to post their score on the wall or window.  

When this information is available in the palm of your hand, it gives customers a snapshot of an establishment’s sanitation history without having to attend the restaurant.


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