How Clean Is the Restaurant Where You’re About to Dine? There’s an App for That. - HD Scores

By LAURA HAYES DEC 21, 2018 11 AM

A new app launched yesterday puts a lot of icky information at users’ fingertips. HD Scores aggregates data from local health departments and employs an algorithm to score restaurants and all other food service establishments on a scale of zero to 100 percent. The closer a restaurant is to 100, the more hygienic the restaurant is.  

Of the 5,281 establishments HD Scores monitors in the District, only 224 get a 100 rating, while 718 have a 5 percent or below, according to HD Scores partner Glynne Townsend. “There’s worse places,” he says. “It’s all relative I guess. But for D.C., you’d expect better. It’s an expensive place to eat out.”

Users can either search for a specific restaurant or they can enable location services so the app pulls up scores for all nearby establishments. From there, you can view the score and read details such as the nature of the violations discovered during health inspections. 

If HD Scores sounds familiar, it’s because Yelp partnered with the company earlier this year to display D.C. Department of Health (DOH) data on the crowd-sourced restaurant review platform. Some criticism arose because HD Scores elected not to disclose the algorithm it uses to come up with the scores.“I’m not sure if I showed you the algorithm, you would understand it,” Townsend told City Paper in August.

That’s changed. On the HD Scores homepage, the company spells out the scoring calculation in a section titled “transparency.” They weigh whether a violation is a repeat offense, whether the violation was a simple mistake that could be corrected while a health inspector was still on site, and the level of severity of the violation in terms of how likely it is to lead to foodborne illness.

“We personally think health is more important than fun,” Townsend says. His son has a life-threatening peanut allergy and wants to be sure restaurants take things like cross-contamination seriously. “We’d rather let our users know that it’s clean and safe. That’s the emphasis. [The app] provides a lot more detail than the one we submitted to Yelp.” 

One problem remains. The numbers on HD Scores rely on DOH doing its job diligently. To determine how frequently a restaurant should be inspected, the department assigns risk levels based on factors such as the menu and the inspection history. Risk level one locations receive one DOH inspection per year, and risk level two locations receive two per year, and so on up to risk level five.

Last August, City Paper found that this wasn’t always happening. Simply Banh Mi in Georgetown, for example, hadn’t been inspected since December 2016. Consumers should therefore take the extra step and read the details on the HD Scores app, paying particular attention to when the last DOH inspection occurred to get a sense of how accurate the hygiene score truly is. 

Townsend says HD Scores’ ultimate goal is to reduce the number of incidents that occur from eating in unclean restaurants. “It’s startling to hear 3,000 people die each year from food poisoning,” he says. “Every three minutes someone goes to an ER for an allergic reaction. You sit back and go, this is the United States of America … Why is this happening? It shouldn’t happen.”

The HD Scores app is available in the iOS app store. A yearly subscription costs $11.99 and a monthly subscription costs $1.99.