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Health department launches restaurant inspection web portal

Diners curious about the sanitary conditions at restaurants in Baltimore can now view the results of health inspections at all food service facilities across the city through a new web portal. (Sarah Meehan, Baltimore Sun video)

Diners curious about the sanitary conditions at restaurants in Baltimore can now view the results of health inspections at food-service facilities across the city through a web portal.

Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen and Councilman Brandon Scott introduced a website that allows residents to look up the results of health department inspections for the city's 5,000 food facilities. The portal launched Tuesday and includes all reports since Jan. 1.

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"You cannot be healthy if the food that you're eating is old, has bacteria in it, has been out for days, has been out for hours, and people have a right to know that their food is safe," Wen said. "We believe in providing all the information for our residents so that they can make the best choices possible about their health."

Previously, inquisitive residents would have had to make their way to the health department's building on East Fayette Street or file public information requests to obtain copies of inspection reports. The new system lets users search for restaurants by name, address or council district at baltimore.foodinspectionreports.com. The database includes the full reports.

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The portal is different from the health department's web page listing restaurants and food service facilities closed as a result of inspection findings. Those sites will remain separate, but if a restaurant is closed as the result of an inspection, that will be noted in its report online.

Funded as part of a $90,000 grant from the Mayor's Innovation Fund, the portal will be updated within a week of a restaurant's inspection, Wen said.

It's only the first step in improving transparency surrounding the cleanliness of restaurants, Scott said.

"It was an embarrassment that it took legislation to get us to this point because cities across the country have had these kind of programs for 10, 15, 20 years," Scott said.

Scott has been pushing to create a grading system for restaurants based on their inspection results. The bill failed last year, but he said the fight isn't over.

"While this is great for a lot of citizens who are very tech savvy who love to look at their reports, the average citizen is not going to understand, and this is why we're going to have to continue to push for a restaurant grading system so that we can take all of this information and make it simple, easy and quick for the average citizen to understand," Scott said. "While this is a great step for us, it's also not the final step."

He plans to revive a bill for the grading system after new City Council members take their positions next year. Eight of the council's 14 district seats are likely to turn over as a result of this year's election.

"Hopefully my new colleagues will agree with me that we need this and agree with the citizens because overwhelmingly the citizens wanted this to happen already," Scott said, "but hopefully we can get it done after December."

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