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The Case in Support of Restaurant Hygiene Grade Cards

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Choices Magazine, 2nd Quarter 2005 CHOICES The magazine of food, farm, and resource issues 2nd Quarter 2005 • 20(2) CHOICES 97 A publication of the American Agricultural Economics Association 2nd Quarter 2005 • 20(2) ©1999–2005 CHOICES. All rights reserved. Articles may be reproduced or electronically distributed as long as attribution to Choices and the American Agricultural Economics Association is maintained. Choices subscriptions are free and can be obtained through The Case in Support of Restaurant Hygiene Grade Cards By Ginger Zhe Jin and Phillip Leslie Throughout the United States, consumers rely on local health authorities to regulate and inspect restaurants in an attempt to assure that high-quality hygiene standards are maintained. Few people would argue that this is unimpor- tant. If hygiene were left unregulated and unmonitored, it is likely that restaurant workers would shirk in their efforts to maintain good hygiene, and customers would generally have little idea that their meals may have been prepared without meeting appropriate health standards. Of course, not all restaurants would be irresponsible in this way, but it only takes one shirking restaurant to give rise to a public health emergency. How effective are the regulations and inspections by public health authorities at assuring good-quality restau- rant hygiene? We have studied restaurant hygiene and the role played by health inspections in Los Angeles County over a three-year period (1996–1998). Our research indi- cates that restaurant hygiene regulations and inspections are a fairly imperfect device for assuring good-quality hygiene. However, in January 1998 the Department of Health Services (DHS) in Los Angeles implemented a crit- ical change in their regulations that led to a dramatic improvement in restaurant hygiene—restaurants were henceforth required to display prominently in their win- dow a letter-grade card (A, B, or C) corresponding to the result of their most recen

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