Restaurant Inspection Postings In C-U Starting January 1
By Jeff Bossert
The placement of inspection signs in restaurant windows is a standard practice in many communities, but it only starts in Champaign-Urbana next week. That effort began about six years ago through U of I journalism students.
Knight Chair in Investigative and Enterprise Journalism Professor and CU-Citizen Access co-founder Brant Houston and his students quickly learned they had to file Freedom of Information Act requests to see inspections.
Houston says inspectors have been happy to comply, and so are most of the restaurants.
He said the resistance has come from the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, which later had glitches on the site when trying to post those numbers.
The restaurant inspections collected by journalism students through their FOIA request are posted on the C-U Citizen Access website. A map shows the locations of restaurants that received failing scores.
Houston says the experience has not only meant a public service, but a good thing for young journalists. But he said there’s more research to be done, including more reporting on establishments that narrowly avoid a failing inspection score.
"Because the score has to be pretty low, in the mid-30's to fail an inspection," he said. "I don't think we've focused enough on the scores of 37, 38, and 39, so we'd we like to do is a little bit more detail. We're actually working with some top-notch computer programmers at the university to do a better analysis, and to make our data more interactive, so that as a member of the public, you can really play around with the data, and see what the problems are."
The placards are only mandatory in Champaign-Urbana, since the Champaign County Board rejected such a measure. But Houston, who’s also co-founder of CU-Citizen Access, said many county restaurants are voluntarily posting the health ratings.
The notices range from green, which means satisfactory - to yellow – requiring a re-inspection - to red, indicating a location has been closed.