E.coli victim wants health inspections on restaurant reviews

SEATTLE -- Before eating out, it's pretty common to check online reviews to see if other diners think the food is any good. But do you also see what county health inspectors think?

A woman who battled E.coli poisoning twice wants to make food safety records as easy to read as restaurant reviews.

When Sarah Schacht buys something to eat, she is more cautious than most. Earlier this year, after dining out, she contracted E.coli, and she recognized the symptoms.

"It was pretty severe," Schacht said.

When she was just 13 years old, she also had E.coli -- she was one of the victims of the Jack in the Box outbreak 20 years ago.

"I don't think I'm somehow cursed to get E.coli, but I think it's symptomatic of how common it is for people to get food borne illness," Schacht said.

She launched an online petition this week asking the county to make its food inspection records more user friendly. More than 1,500 people have signed on.

Sarah would like to see a letter grading system, where restaurants post their A, B or C grade.

The King County Health Department is listening, but says letter grades aren't perfect.

"Just about any system I've seen out there currently is reflective of a point in time," said Mark Rowe with the King County food protection program. "And it's very difficult to represent a trend or longer period of time, which is really what people should be looking for when they access information."

Some cities put their health inspection data on Yelp. It's an idea Sarah likes.

When she had E.coli poisoning, she found stellar reviews of the food online but didn't know the restaurant had five unsatisfactory health inspections.

Now, she sticks to places she can investigate -- or already knows, like her favorite coffee shop.

"I know them, I see them cleaning and... I have a lot of confidence in them," she said.

Restaurateur Ethan Stowell said he wants his customers to have health inspection information, but isn't comfortable relying on Yelp to ensure that data is posted correctly.

"I don't necessarily want to mix a business with a public agency," he said.

In addition, Stowell said the most common cause of food borne illness in a restaurant is serving product that is not fresh, which health inspectors don't regulate.

"I would love it if there was some way to get to the heart of food borne illness problems - that people are serving bad product," Stowell said. "It doesn't matter if your fridge is at 36 or 42 if your halibut is 10 days old."

Under the current system, you can go to King County Public Health's website and find a restaurant's last five inspection results. Managers are looking for ways to improve the system.

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