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Restaurant hygiene are influenced by health inspections and customer reviews

Researchers say consumers have some sway when it comes to the cleanliness of restaurants

Photo (c) LightFieldStudios - Getty Images
Despite many New Year’s resolutions to eat healthy, many consumers are still eating out with regularity. One recent study shows that all that extra time at restaurants could be affecting how clean those businesses are.

According to researchers, restaurants are most likely to maintain proper hygiene immediately before a health inspection or after being prompted by customer reviews. 

“Online reviews of restaurants can effectively identify cases of hygiene violation even after the restaurants have been inspected and certified, thereby identifying moral hazard,” said researcher Shawn Mankand. 

Poorer hygiene after health inspections

To understand what was behind restaurants’ push towards better hygiene practices, the researchers honed in on restaurants in New York City, analyzing both customer Yelp reviews and official health inspection data from 2010 through 2016. 

While many customers want to be able to trust health inspections, they typically only occur on an annual basis. Though they are unannounced, meaning that restaurants should always be operating as if they’re going to be inspected, this isn’t always the case -- especially as more and more establishments are opening their doors. 

“Based on the dictionary word counts, we find that roughly 30 percent of all restaurants in New York City deteriorate in terms of their hygiene within 90 days of certification from the health department,” said Markand. 

Rely on reviews

Health inspection results are available to the public. With a simple internet search, consumers can see what their favorite eateries ranked on their latest evaluation. However, because of how infrequently health inspections are performed and the surprising statistics about how restaurants perform after such inspections, the researchers recommend that consumers look to other customers’ reviews when deciding where to eat or order from next. 

Online reviews make it easy for customers to report on their experiences, and the researchers also found that they could potentially have sway in when health inspectors make their annual visits. 

“Traditional techniques to detect and prevent moral hazard, such as rigorous inspections and a strong set of incentives, contribute toward decreasing these inefficiencies in the market,” said Markand. “However, we believe that techniques of text analysis within the domain of machine learning, alongside access to crowd-sourced data from online review platforms such as Yelp, can further enhance the efficiency of hygiene inspections.” 

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