LIVES Open Data Standard Aims to Prevent Foodborne Illness

July 27, 2015 4:00 pm PST | Data as a Service
restaurant meal

Local Inspector Value-Entry Specification (LIVES) is an open data standard that normalizes restaurant inspection scores across jurisdictions, allowing consumers to get a sense for restaurant food safety compliance across municipalities and within their hometowns.

This open data standard is a joint public safety venture between the city of San Francisco, Code for America, Yelp, and Socrata. It’s a project that’s personal for Socrata’s Public Health Data Advisor, Sarah Schacht, who is a two-time survivor of food poisoning. For more on her story, and why she believes open data can decrease the volume of food poisoning occurrences, read her blog post.

The Need for LIVES to Exist

Putting an open data standard in place for restaurant grades is an important mission, since millions of Americans contract foodborne illnesses annually.

This past week, wrote about food inspection data, and how it can be used to prevent illness and make it easier to review restaurants’ grades, and eat out fear-free. With a close look at how food inspection currently works in the U.S., it becomes clear how standards could help:

Despite 15 government entities monitoring U.S. food supplies, there’s no required federal standard. The CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only provide general guidelines that have compelled cities and states to craft a cornucopia of their own evaluation metrics. Some score restaurants with numeric methods, others use alphabetized grading, many dress scores in color-coded labels, while still others opt for pass-fail assessments. Some might be surprised to learn of Schacht’s research, which says 60 percent of cities don’t operate with any rating system at all and prefer violation lists instead.

In a word: chaos, with inconsistent metrics and scoring systems from city to city and state to state.  

How LIVES Scoring Works

While many governments use the 0-100 rating scale, this rating scale (or any score) is not required from any governments to participate in the LIVES program.

Socrata’s Public Health Data Advisor, Sarah Schacht explained to why a numeric score might not always be the best standard:

Diving from the panoramic 0-100 rating to a more in-the-weeds approach, Schacht said she’s working with Yelp on an update expected to open LIVES to the more than 60 percent of U.S. cities that lack scoring systems. The new judging criteria won’t eliminate the 100 score if cities want to add it, but separates critical and noncritical violations into two columns, with critical violations — those likely to produce illness and close restaurants — red-flagged for diners.

“We wanted to make sure that more governments were implementing this standard, that it was growing, that it was thriving. The new schema can grow to encompass more governments,” Schacht said.

Getting Involved

This spring, Socrata launched LIVES Access Program (LAP) to support governments in getting their restaurant inspection scores into LIVES. LAP is designed to leverage best practices from other LIVES-producing governments. With fewer than 50 total hours of staff time, governments will get inspection scores published in LIVES.

Interested in doing the LIVES Access Program? Let us know! We’ll follow up with a 15 minute call to talk more about the program. Along with four to 10 other governments, you’ll be placed in a cohort where for two months you’ll be guided through LIVES setup, normalization, and publishing open data.


Sign up to participate in LIVES



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