New App Gives the Dirt on Restaurants' Health Grades

Rats and roaches? No hairnets? It's all just a click away.

(Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Dec 16, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

If you’ve ever been brave enough to chow down at a restaurant with a health department grade of B or C, you’ve probably wondered what kind of violations it committed to earn such a low mark. Unless you’re super savvy at navigating state or city health department websites, discovering whether that grade is due to rats and roaches roaming the eatery’s kitchens—or if employees are failing to wash their hands—can sometimes be difficult. Now, thanks to a new app called What the Health, figuring out what exactly officials have to say about a dining establishment could be a mere smartphone click away.

The free app was created by two Augusta, Ga. natives, Chris Peoples and Jake Van Dyke, after they wondered about health details of restaurants in their town.

"Some of these restaurants around town, you never know what [score] they have, and try to put inspection scores off to the side where you don't really see it," Peoples told WJBF.

After seeing how cumbersome it could be to search for information on the Georgia Health Department's website, the duo decided to make the easy-to-use app. Both Android and iPhone users can search for a specific restaurant by name. Or, if the user is in an unfamiliar part of town and is wondering about the cleanliness of eateries in the area, searching by location is also an option.

Once a user clicks on a restaurant, the overall grade and details of health code violations pop up. Were rodent droppings observed? Was food left sitting out uncovered at room temperature? Another click reveals the actual health department report. The app's data is updated weekly so that consumers are empowered with the latest information. A person can then decide if he or she actually wants to eat in a place where employees weren’t wearing hairnets or roaches were seen scurrying across a counter.

"Several places I've been like trying to get my wife to go to, and then I look them up, and I'm like, oh there's mold in the ice machine, better not go there," Van Dyke told the station.

Empowering consumers with an app like this might keep so many Americans from ending up with a horrible case of vomiting or diarrhea. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates, an astonishing 48 million Americans get food poisoning every year, and about 3,000 of them die. Right now What the Health is only available in Georgia, but Van Dyke and Peoples have plans to expand it nationwide. When that happens, all those B and C grade restaurants across the country will probably have to clean up their acts. After all, their dirty kitchen laundry is going to be a click away.