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Online restaurant health inspections offer easy access

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Tina VanBibber, owner of the Wheelhouse restaurant on Charleston's Bridge Road, thinks lots of people planning to eat out will check the health department's new online inspection database before deciding where to go.

But another city restaurateur disagrees.

"I think people that are online all of the time will check the (website) ratings," said Mike Summerlin, co-owner and general manager for the Vandalia Grille downtown.

Summerlin thinks the online inspection reports aren't really needed but can provide more information for patrons who want to research their favorite restaurant's cleanliness.

The Vandalia Grille was one of the restaurants cited for critical violations by Kanawha-Charleston Health Department Sanitarian Alicia Page in 2011.

Numerous others were cited, including Outback Steakhouse, the Chop House and Tidewater at Charleston Town Center Mall and the former Blossom Deli and Ichiban downtown.

VanBibber thinks 75 percent of diners will check the online inspection reports, which list critical and noncritical violations for restaurants on the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department's website.

"I think the online reports make it a lot easier for people to know what's going on in the restaurants," she said. She plans to check the online reports herself before choosing places to patronize.

Restaurants are required to post copies of their inspection reports on their premises. However, these reports often are hard to find and can be difficult to read, she said.

"You could go into some of the restaurants and not see them," VanBibber said.

Dr. Rahul Gupta, executive director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, also thinks the online reports will make it easier for those wishing to do a little research about their restaurant of choice.

He said the online reports will be an often-visited portion of the website.

"The reports are easy to find," he said. "They're right at everyone's fingertips.

"People are interested in seeing what restaurants got what ratings before they go out."

The reports were posted online as a way to better serve members of the public concerned about restaurant cleanliness.

The reports include color-coded ratings, with green signifying excellent compliance and red signifying the restaurant received a poor enough rating to warrant closure.  

"This will help educate the people, and it will better serve the well-performing food establishments attract more customers," Gupta said.

The health department already has fielded calls from members of the public attempting to locate the reports on the agency's website, said Nasandra Wright, sanitarian supervisor.

"That leads us to believe that they (reports) are serving their intended purpose," she said.

Health department officials plan to track the number of times people view the reports online but have no figures yet.

The views will increase once a mobile app is linked to the website this summer.

The online reports will benefit those traveling through the area looking for clean, safe establishments, Gupta said.

Online rating systems have become very popular in states like New York and California, Wright said.

The online inspection reports can be found at www.kchdwv.org.      

Contact writer Paul Fallon at paul.fallon@dailymail.com or 304-348-4817. Follow him at www.twitter.com/PaulBFallon.


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