Posted by: bridget | 27 August 2007

Food Inspectors, Eat Your Hearts Out

The Boston Globe reports that Massachusetts lacks enough health inspectors to properly determine the cleanliness standards of local restaurants and that the state does not make inspection reports available to the public. As a result, many restaurants (including some of the snobbiest Boston establishments) have been cited for numerous critical violations but continue to remain in business.

California restaurants post their cleanliness ratings on the outside windows of their establishments. The highest rating is an “A,” and restaurants with that designation proudly display it. Diners need not do research beforehand to determine the cleanliness of the restaurants. Nevertheless, that does not address the issue of understaffing.

There is a free-market solution to this problem: restaurants which care about cleanliness can perform their own inspections and internally monitor the restaurant. Legal Sea Foods has built a reputation for doing just that:

In the restaurant industry, Legal Sea Foods is known for its fixation on cleanliness. All its seafood is quarantined and tested for pathogens at its South Boston laboratory before being sent to restaurants. Martinello and Deborah Rosati, a registered sanitarian who is a consultant to the chain, inspect every restaurant monthly. These are not drop-by visits; they spend five to six hours combing through every facet of the operation.

If Martinello or Rosati find any serious problems, Martinello said, the restaurant manager’s bonus is cut. If problems persist, he said, “we have a management rearrangement.”

Surely, Legal Sea Foods has been able to woo diners with its higher standards. It sees no reason to depend upon the state, nor to use its standards as its own. Other restaurants can follow suit; alternatively, an independent group (a food version of AAA or Consumer Reports) can perform the inspections.


  1. I love the market solutions. Seems like many things can be solved with independent auditors (child labor, restaurant cleanliness, etc.).

    Sounds like a serious mgmt. problem with the Mass. organization. If they are short on people, they should just go to less restaurants but follow through on the ones they do test.

  2. Like their slogan. “if it isn’t fresh it isn’t legal.” Of course when no inspectors are around what’s legal ?

  3. Neil,

    Yeah, funny how that works out. As an accountant, I imagine that part of your job is being an independent auditor. Imagine the calamity that would ensue if we left financial inspections of businesses to the government.


    Legal’s does have gov’t inspectors in addition to their own inspectors…. it’s just that in Massachusetts, gov’t inspections are woefully inadequate.

    I would really love to see a company come out with a restaurant cleanliness rating scheme and have the inspectors to do it themselves. No reason to rely on the state.

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