Thursday, July 28, 2005

Restaurant hygiene grade cards

Ginger Zhe Lin and Phillip Leslie write in the latest issue of Choices about restaurant hygiene grade cards, in which Los Angeles restaurants were required to post a report card showing how they scored in city health inspections. Their clever study analyzes the reasons why many restaurants had poor hygiene in the period before the new report cards were introduced in 1998. Even in this early period, consumers had some information about hygiene, such as could be seen in bathroom cleanliness for example, but they were ignorant about most of the shortcomings health inspectors could identify. Also, restaurants with a tourist clientele appeared to do worse than restaurants with predominantly repeat customers. Then, after the new policy was instituted, hygiene improved sharply. The authors even compile data on hospitalizations to suggest that lower foodborne illness resulted after 1998.
In conclusion, the use of restaurant hygiene grade cards in Los Angeles has been a great success. By increasing the provision of information to consumers, powerful economic incentives are created for restaurants to improve hygiene, leading to a significant improvement in public health outcomes. Moreover, because the DHS already perform inspections, the grade cards create negligible additional cost for the government.
Economists tend to perceive many food safety issues as information failures -- the problem is that sellers know something about the quality of the product that buyers don't know. The delightfully non-bureaucratic solution to many information failures is to make sure that customers get the information they deserve.

So when are we going to get nutrition information for restaurants? Currently, leading companies such as McDonald's and Subway provide such information on the internet and frequently on information sheets available in-store upon request. In the past, for different reasons, we happened to report in U.S. Food Policy that Fuddruckers and Quizno's (also here) appear to hide much of their nutrition profile from their customers. In the case of Quizno's, I wrote management to ask for nutrition information with no success. Do you think nobody cares? Think again! An informal review suggests that the two most frequent search items that lead people to read U.S. Food Policy -- bringing perhaps a couple dozen hits daily -- are "Quizno's nutrition" and "Fuddruckers nutrition."

Go ahead, Fuddruckers and Quizno's. Please take my traffic away. Establish nutrition information sites to provide customers with much-desired nutrition information for your whole product line. Maybe they'll stop reading further down the list of results on their search engine and never look here for opinion and commentary.


Nicole Brader said...

Yes, I was one who just typed Fuddruckers nutrition facts in the google search box. I never new this about Fuddruckers nor Quiznos. Looks like I'm not going to either of those resturaunts again. If McDonald's can print their facts on every food containing carton, why can't they? Truely this only leads a person to believe they are hiding something. And for that reason alone, they will no longer exist to me.

Lori said...

Me too, I want to know the fat and calorie count of the Grilled Chicken Sandwiches at Fuddruckers. I would probably be sick to think I am eating a "healthier" alternative to a burger when I see a whopping fat content. I know I can see they have toasted their bread with a good amount of "butter", that's why it tastes so good. I agree with Nicole, I think I will have a BK Broiler next time.