In March of this year, the City of Detroit’s Health Department released record-level data detailing all health inspections taking place in restaurants and food establishments in Detroit over the past few years. With that data, we decided to conduct a quantitative analysis of inspection violations to see what kinds of insights we could glean about the inspection process overall, as well as trends in violation citations. Before we dive in, it’s important to understand there are three types of violations that can be issued:
1. Priority Violations which directly contribute to foodborne illness or food poisoning
2. Foundation Violations which indirectly contribute to foodborne illness or food poisoning
3. Core Violations which do not contribute to foodborne illness or food poisoning but are violations of other legal requirements
Overview of Inspections
According to the data, 2,916 inspections of Detroit restaurants were conducted by 22 inspectors in 2018. Inspectors handled anywhere from 2 (Inspector #80) to 466 (Inspector #87) inspections. Over 600 inspections (21.5%) yielded no violations.
Since core violations (43.2% of all violations) do not contribute directly to food safety issues, the health department does not require them to be resolved; however, about 10% of all priority and foundation violations, which do contribute to food safety, were not recorded as resolved. While it’s possible that a follow-up inspection has not occurred yet since the data provided ends in January 2019, unresolved priority and foundation violations can also be found in every month in 2018.
Almost half of all violations (49.2%) issued are core violations, and are most commonly related to a general lack of cleanliness of non-food-related surfaces and areas. The other half of violations are divided equally between priority and foundation.
The most common priority violations are:
• Not cooking food to an appropriate temperature (36.1% of priority violations)
• Issues with cross contamination (16.5%)
• Storing poisonous or toxic material too close to food and equipment (9.6%)
The most common foundation violations were related to:
• Hand washing (21.4%)
• Preparation and storage of ready-to-eat food (18.1%)
• Lack of testing kits for sanitizing solutions.
Overview of Inspectors
While 626 inspections resulted in no violations, the number of violations found seems to be dependent on the inspector who comes to the restaurant. On average, inspectors issue 4.4 violations per inspection; however, that number can range from as high as 5.75 violations to as low as 1.3 from any one given inspector. Furthermore, inspectors with the lowest rates of violations seem to have the highest rates of violation-free inspections (with some violation-free rates as high as 59.6%). They also tend to issue less than 3 violations per inspection on average. Interestingly, however, this didn’t impact the propensity of priority violations being issued overall.
At the end of the day, most of these Low Violation Inspectors fall below the 2018 average for core violations, indicating that their lower rates of violations per inspection do not directly impact food safety, however, this trend identifies a gap in consistency from one inspector to another. This trend is also evident in the few years of data available prior to 2018. These inconsistencies identify areas of opportunity for the Detroit Health Department to focus on ensuring inspectors are all on the same page and effectively provide the highest level of food safety and cleanliness possible for the patrons and communities these restaurants serve.