I’ve been writing about food hygiene for several years now and have attempted to increase transparency for consumers by publishing information about Fitzroy restaurants. Unfortunately local and state governments are corrupt and beholden to commercial ratepayers. They refuse to publish food hygiene inspection data to benefit public health because it may threaten the viability of bad businesses and this has the potential to reduce the rates and taxes they pay to governments.
NSW has perhaps the best system in Australia. When I visited London I found a system far superior to that in Victoria. New York City has an even more impressive system that requires all restaurants to be randomly inspected at least once a year and for the restaurant to display its rating in its window, as shown in the photo below.
The system is not perfect. In operation since July 2010, it is evident that not all restaurants are checked at least once a year, and not all display the score in their window. But it demonstrates a commitment to two principles: that the public have a right to access data about a service it pays for, and that public health warrants and requires such transparency.
The City of Yarra and the Victorian government disagree. They think your health is worth nothing and that you, as a taxpayer and ratepayer, do not deserve access to the data about food hygiene inspections that you have paid for.
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene undertakes the inspections and publishes an inspection database that anyone can use to research a restaurant. The NYC Open Data project also publishes the data sets for anyone to download and reuse in independent applications, such as NYC health ratings.
To give an example, the Michelin starred Wallsé, where I ate on 9 January 2013, had previously last been rated an ‘A’ (with a score of 12 – 0-13 is an A, 14-27 a B and 28 or more is a C) on 29 November 2011 (thus also demonstrating that the city had not inspected it within a year as required). But it was subsequently inspected 2 days later on 11 January 2013, when it scored 16 (which would be a B, but if a restaurant scores less than an A they get reinspected at random within a month and thus have the opportunity to improve to regain an A).
The City of Yarra refuses to do any of these things. I made and FOI application for the data to be released and they refused to do it. The State Ombudsman refused to over-rule them and both demonstrated undeniable incompetence and deliberate obfuscation. So too bad if you get food poisoning in a City of Yarra restaurant. They don’t care about your health and they actively refuse to do anything to improve public health or transparency for consumers.