Restaurant goers will soon have more than the just the menu and reviews to consider before selecting where to eat in Maine. The Pine Tree State plans to make public restaurant health inspection reports through a new database from Maine’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
When the information from the database goes live, Maine will join a majority of states that also provide some access to online restaurant inspection records. Nancy Beardsley, the director of the CDC division that oversees the health inspection program, said that the state has been looking toward its current database’s replacement since 2007, but a 2013 investigation from the Maine Sunday Telegram added urgency for the state to replace the system.
The newspaper’s investigation found that state lawmakers reduced the frequency of required restaurant inspections in 2011 while consumer complaints were on the rise. According to the investigation, lawmakers did not know about the trend in complaints due to the lack of state data at the time, which made it difficult to discern the trends facing restaurants receiving complaints.
“The paper’s work was really important to emphasize and bring to light the issues with our lack of technology,” Beardsley said. “I do think in the wake of that press we did have a renewed focus and I would say that was maybe the catalyst to renew that effort to find a replacement.”
The investigation also found a lack of staff to keep up with inspections and a wide gap of failure rates from low to high across the state’s 11 public health districts. In fact, only one out of 334 inspections in Washington County from 2010 to 2012 failed, but in Sagadahoc County, 25 out of 193 inspections failed.
The new system could lead to a more efficient inspections regimen and improve the state’s ability to follow up more often with restaurants with a history of violations. The system would also allow agencies to compare failure rates from one county to another to ensure that inspections are consistent statewide.
“The public has been asking for that, and we want to be able to provide that,” Beardsley said. “We are very close to completing a contract. It will be public very soon.”
John Martins, a spokesman for the state CDC, said the database that Maine will put in place is also used in several other states, including Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Vermont.