Yelp is committed to empowering and protecting consumers by surfacing important information they typically can’t otherwise easily find about local businesses. To that end, we developed the Local Inspector Value-Entry Specification (LIVES) program, which allows municipalities to publish restaurant health inspection information to Yelp, helping consumers make informed choices about safe places to eat. In fact, a forthcoming study in The Journal of Industrial Economics found that Yelp’s LIVES program saves lives. After evaluating businesses in Louisville, KY, economist Matthew Philip Makofske discovered that Yelp’s restaurant hygiene score program “significantly reduced rates of severe food poisoning in Louisville,” relative to the rest of the state.
This study looked at how Yelp’s publication of restaurants’ most recent health inspection scores improved hygiene quality among independent restaurants in Louisville.
Yelp was inspired to launch the LIVES program in 2013 after learning about a study from the mid ‘90s about the Los Angeles restaurant industry. The study discovered that the number of hospitalizations due to foodborne illness dropped by 13.1% in Los Angeles County after restaurants were required to publicly post their health inspection grades. Additionally, when restaurant scores are posted conspicuously, best practices improve across the industry. We’ve since partnered with local governments and in 2018 we announced we would roll out health scores nationally thanks to our partnership with HDScores, which collects public data from local health departments.
Greater Accountability of Louisville Restaurants
While health inspection information has been available in a public database on Louisville’s official website since 2009, the city began sharing data with Yelp during the summer of 2013 to help consumers access it where they already were already looking for places to eat. The study found that businesses performed better on inspections conducted after their health scores became easily accessible to the public on Yelp.
Publishing health scores on Yelp led to a 9-14% decrease in restaurant inspection point deductions relative to their average before July 2013, according to the study. Among independent restaurants, the study found an average 10% decrease in violations per inspection and an average 34-36% decrease in critical violations per inspection after the health department partnered with Yelp.
Reduced Foodborne Illness Diagnoses
The study also estimates that Louisville may have avoided up to 140 serious cases of food poisoning in 2014 after comparing the number of emergency discharges that involved foodborne illness diagnoses in Louisville-Jefferson County against such diagnoses in the rest of Kentucky. In the rest of Kentucky serious cases of food poisoning rose throughout 2014, but the number of cases in the Louisville-Jefferson County stabilized and even decreased slightly over that same year. According to Professor Makofske, this suggests that the partnership with Yelp helped Louisville to break from the statewide trend seen from 2011 to 2013.
What Does This All Mean?
Cities regularly inspect restaurants and other dining establishments to ensure food safety and the health of the general public. While this information is typically available at the business or on a local health department’s site, it isn’t always easily accessible until a customer actually arrives at the business. Yelp’s LIVES program increases access to this vital public health information right at the point when a diner is deciding which establishment to patronize. That means the restaurants with the best hygiene scores are rewarded with more business, thus encouraging other restaurants with lower scores to take public health more seriously and improve their practices. Yelp’s goal is to spur change by helping consumers make informed dining decisions, encouraging businesses to improve how they handle food safety, and inspiring local jurisdictions to become more transparent and standardized in their reporting of restaurant hygiene scores.