Restaurant inspections now online

ALBANY, Ga. -- The area public is now able to view food service inspections in "real time."

The Southwest Public Health District has become one of the first in Georgia to immediately make area restaurant inspections available online.

"As soon as the reports are finished, they are available online on our website, www.southwestgeorgiapublichealth.org," said Dougherty County Health Department Lead Environmentalist Jim Pericaud in a statement. "It is instantaneous."

There are several ways the public can view inspection scores.

Interested parties can choose "Health Departments" on the main page's pull-down menu, select the county of interest and click on either "Restaurant Inspections" or "Programs and Services" on the menu and then choose "Restaurant Inspections."

Reports can be found by using a specific date range, key words, the establishment's name, address, city or zip code, the inspection's score or by the first letter of the restaurant's name.

Each search will display the establishment's most recent inspection and display up to five past inspections if they are available. The public can click on "View Inspection," and an electronic copy of the form is then available by clicking on "View Form."

"(The system) gives you so many ways to view it," said Dewayne Tanner, environmental health director at the health district.

There is a reason up to five previous inspections are available for each restaurant.

"It's so you can see a pattern of how a restaurant performs," Tanner explained. "This just gives people the power to make better decisions."

The system has been up and running for three to four weeks. The reports also contain detailed notes of the inspector's findings on the second page.

"This allows people to go online and check restaurants before they eat," said Tanner. "We are just trying to be more progressive."

The counties listed in blue on the website indicate which counties have been added to the search engine. Officials expect the remaining health districts in Georgia to be on the system within the coming months.

"Eventually, the whole state will be on this system," Tanner said. "They are moving in that direction. (With the new system) you can see more detail; you can actually see what the infractions are."

There is also a link on the online system that gives an explanation of what the scores and violations mean.

Establishments are inspected on average twice a year. In most cases, the reports have been posted within a couple of months after an inspection, Tanner said.

Even with local, state and federal regulations in place for commercial food handling, preparation and inspection, an estimated 76 million cases of food-borne disease occur each year in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths are related to food-borne illnesses annually.

The majority of cases are mild, with symptoms lasting for only a day or two, but some cases can be more serious, said Southwest Public Health District Director Dr. Jacqueline Grant in a news release.