Mobile App Offers Restaurant Health Inspection Grades

By
Selena Sattler searches for the grade of her favorite fast food location on What the Health. The app was recently released in Florida, allowing users quick access to local restaurant grades based on health inspections.
Selena Sattler searches for the grade of her favorite fast food location on What the Health. The app was recently released in Florida, allowing users quick access to local restaurant grades based on health inspections. Alexia Fernandez / WUFT News

A recently released smartphone application allows potential dining customers to view the health inspection grades for their favorite restaurants.

The What The Health app was created exclusively for Georgia in July and became available to download in September. The app is now being used in 9 states. Florida’s version, What The Health – Florida for Apple users and Florida Health Scores for Android users, became available on Jan. 26. 

Creators Jake Van Dyke and Chris Peoples came up with the idea to make an app that offers instant access to health inspections and restaurant information over dinner at a Georgia restaurant.

“The idea came out of personal necessity,” Van Dyke said. “We started looking up the information. We just realized that while the information is available on the county website, it’s not really easy to get to.”

They wrote a program to help gather all health inspection data from county websites to put in the app.

Van Dyke and Peoples have created versions of the app for nine states and Washington, D.C.

Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) does not assign grades to hotels or restaurants like Georgia and New York do. Florida’s health code follows the Food and Drug Administration Food Code, which requires a three-tier system for food safety and sanitation inspections, said Chelsea Eagle, deputy director of communications at the DBPR.

Categories are broken down by basic, intermediate and high priority violations that are made available to the public on the DBPR website. 

The app’s scoring system is on a scale of 100. Basic violations result in a one-point deduction, intermediate violations result in two- or three-point deductions, and high priority violations result in a six-point deduction. Based on the deductions, restaurants can be given an A, B, C or U, the equivalent to a failing grade.

Several popular restaurants in Gainesville are available on the What the Health - Florida app. Each restaurant's grade and distance from the user are readily available on the app.
Several popular restaurants in Gainesville are available on the What the Health – Florida app. Each restaurant’s grade and distance from the user are shown on the app. Photo courtesy of Jake Van Dyke/Modern Appsolutions

Eagle said the DBPR does not follow a grading scale because it provides incomplete information that can be misleading.

“Several states that grade don’t follow the same set of standards that we do,” she said. “(People) know when there’s a high priority violation. We’re providing consumers with a great deal of information of whether they want to eat there or not.”

The department is one of three in the state that regulates food safety and food operations. The Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services also conduct health inspections, but the DBPR regulates restaurants, most mobile food trucks and most public food service events.

While Florida departments may not use a letter-grade scale to place a value on the level of service and health offered at restaurants, Peoples and Van Dyke created a grade scale to help users see how one restaurant compares to another. The app also lists dining locations based on proximity to the user.

“Having the information there in the app, it’s a whole lot easier to know before you even waste your time going somewhere,” Van Dyke said. “How they did on their inspections and if it’s somewhere you want to take your family or not.”

Kyle Griffin has dined at Peach Valley Café once a month for a year. He was surprised to find the restaurant with a U grade on the What The Health app.

“It gives you an idea of how clean the kitchen is,” Griffin said. “Most places aren’t going to have a 100 percent, but (the cafe’s grade) is a little surprising because it seems like more of an upper-scale place to eat.”

Peach Valley Café, at 3275 SW 34th St., received a score of 58 out of 100.

McAlister’s Deli and Chipotle Mexican Grill received passing grades of A and B, respectively. Other popular restaurants such as Chick-Fil-A were graded with a lower score of C. Tatu, a sushi restaurant on University Avenue, received a failing grade of U.

The grades assigned to Florida restaurants on What the Health are based on a grade scale used in Washington, D.C., where six critical violations will shut down a business on the spot. Six critical violations in Florida will automatically earn a restaurant a failing grade on the app, Van Dyke said.

For DBPR, there is no set number of violations that will close a business permanently, Eagle said.

“There are aggravating and mitigating factors that will result in an emergency closure such as sewage backup or pest infestation,” she said.

As for Peach Valley Café, since its inspection showed no critical violations, they will continue serving breakfast and brunch seven days a week.

Selena Sattler, a 20-year-old UF psychology sophomore, said she likes to reference the app if she’s visiting new places

“I think having a grade attached to a place just makes it easier for someone like me to make a judgment call,” she said. “Do I want to eat at a place that got a C or an A?”

About Alexia Fernandez

Alexia is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

Check Also

‘The Need Is All Over Florida’ For Rural Dental Care Access During The Pandemic

A lack of affordable dental care across north central Florida leaves limited options for many, particularly those from low income families. For uninsured patients, ACORN is an low-cost alternative to pricey trips to the ER.