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June 18, 2015

New app grades Pennsylvania restaurants by health inspection reports

Technology Restaurants
Restaurant App File Art /for PhillyVoice

How dirty are your favorite restaurants?

Sifting through Philadelphia's restaurants for grime and grubbiness just got a whole lot easier. 

A duo of Georgia-based entrepreneurs, Chris Peoples and Jake Van Dyke, launched an app called "What the Health" this week that aggregates Pennsylvania Department of Health inspection records. The app assigns a letter grade and a numerical score to restaurants based on violations that are categorized as "critical," "noncritical" or "repeats" -- the latter meaning that a violation from a previous inspection was not addressed for the next go-around. 

"We’re trying to provide a service to people," Chris Peoples, co-founder of What the Health, told PhillyVoice. "It's a risk-assessment app. So, if there’s a restaurant with a 'C,' you can take a risk on whether you want to eat there -- if the food is really delicious enough [to still eat there]. Or just letting them know a place might be a little unsanitary."

The grading is determined by an algorithm inspired by a system already used by some state health departments in the country, including in their home state of Georgia. Pennsylvania is not one of those states, he said; their own algorithm serves as an alternative to an official state ranking and is set up to dock about five points for critical violations (the kind that could land you in the hospital), one point for noncritical violations (broken light-bulbs) and two points for noncritical violations that are repeated.


Screenshots taken from the Pennsylvania version of the 'What the Health' app. Photo courtesy of Chris Peoples

The two came up with the idea after realizing how cumbersome a search for health inspection records can be while navigating the government website in Georgia. They've since launched the app in eight other states and the District of Columbia, with a New York app in the pipeline. All versions of the app included, it's been downloaded 100,000 times.

You can do a search of your favorite restaurants through the app (free), but below are a few Philly violation highlights:

Dirty Franks: Grade A, 97. Dirty Franks isn't so dirty, as it turns out. Its noted offenses were a hole in the wall and a need for a "general cleaning" throughout the facility. (As of Aug. 19, 2014.)

Pizzeria Vetri. Grade C, 77. The report notes that one employee was observed "prepping food after touching money and scratching hairy arm without washing hands before going back to prep food." (As of May 2, 2015.)

Parc Restaurant: Grade A, 93. Food employees were observed not wearing hairnets, or wearing "ineffective" hair restraints. (As of March 20, 2015.)

El Camino Real: Grade C, 77. Offenses included unclean beverage dispensers upon sight, and raw beef that was found stored above uncovered cooked poultry. The meat was relocated upon inspection. (As of Feb. 19, 2015.)

Midtown II Restaurant: Grade F, 42. Cigarette butts were found by the hand-washing area in the kitchen, and canned items were discovered "severely dented, swollen" and "distressed." Midtown III, Oregon Diner, Broad Street Diner and Melrose Diner also received "F" grades. (As of March 12, 2015.)

City Tap House Logan Square: Grade B, 89. According to the inspection, "raw chicken, milk and processed meat products were held at 49 to 51 degrees Fahrenheit, rather than 41 degrees or below as required." (As of May 13, 2015.)

La Colombe Torre Faction at 130 S. 19th St.: Grade C, 73. Employees were spotted drinking coffee without a lid where food is prepared; an employee was seen handling food without gloves. (As of May 14, 2015.)

What the Health is available for download now on the App Store and Google Play. Peoples said moving forward, the app will be updated three times a week with new inspection reports, and will also weed out reports that are older than 13 months. Also, beware of some pesky glitches in the search functionality of the app, which Peoples said will be addressed in an update next week.