Fairplay resident’s website aims to improve food safety
October 28, 2011
During Dr. Harlan Stueven’s almost 30 years as an emergency room physician, he saw a number of patients suffer and die of food poisoning. Now in semi-retirement, he hopes not only to improve awareness of food-borne illness, but ultimately help prevent it.
“I wanted to do something that would give back in a way,” Stueven said. “The idea of grading restaurants for cleanliness came to the forefront.”
So Stueven – a Fairplay resident who spent most of his career in Wisconsin – recently created http://www.DiningGrades.com, a website giving diners the ability to read about and rate a restaurant’s sanitation.
“What I’ve learned in the process of investigating this is that the food poisoning epidemic is much larger than most people realize,” Stueven said. “Roughly 40 percent of the time, it’s from poor handling in the restaurant industry. So that’s where I decided to focus my efforts.”
Everything on the free site centers around a grading system. Users answer yes or no to 20 questions – were gloves used to prepare food, was the floor clean, did the server reach over plates – which are each attached to a demerit. Restaurants are then scored on a 100-point system, and given a grade of A-F. Reviews are dated, and comments can be added. Right now, Dining Grades has about 700 registered users in 40 states.
“The idea is to empower the public, and teach the public, what to look for when they go to a restaurant,” Stueven said. “There are probably 50 FDA (Food and Drug Administration) food code inspection items – about 40 percent of those you can see from where you’re sitting at the restaurant. If you’re watching objectively and can carefully answer, you can almost act as a restaurant inspector.”
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The Centers for Disease Control estimates about 48 million Americans get food-borne diseases every year – 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die.
“That’s pretty huge. That’s a lot of deaths, and a lot of sicknesses,” Stueven said.
He lists one of the main causes as ready-to-eat food being touched with bare hands; the FDA forbids the practice, but a lot of states and municipalities are lenient so long as handlers wash their hands every 15 minutes.
“In reality, in the course of 15 minutes, the person could be touching their hair, touching their face, touching their nose, and those hands become contaminated,” Stueven said.
Stueven’s partner in creating the website is Bruce Kress, a registered state sanitarian who has worked primarily in restaurant inspection for more than 35 years. Dining Grades isn’t meant to replace what health inspectors do, but instead, help facilitate their jobs.
“They’re only going to restaurants once a quarter or once a year,” Stueven said. “A lot of things can happen in the course of time between those inspections.”
The websites first and foremost purpose is to educate. Not only the public – who often think of cleanliness as an afterthought behind atmosphere and food offerings when rating a restaurant – but the establishments themselves.
“What we want is to ultimately partner with restaurants,” Stueven said. “What we’re trying to do with the restaurant is to give them dynamic data back and give them tools to improve.”
After ratings are posted anonymously, data can be viewed by restaurant managers, who can ask themselves what the public is seeing, that they don’t, which needs to be fixed.
Stueven and Kress also offer free food handler’s programs for restaurant staff on their website.
“It’s a public service, and we think we have a lot to offer,” Stueven said.
Dining Grades can be accessed online or through mobile applications. For more information, go to http://www.dininggrades.com.