Posted by: mikepearsonnz | August 14, 2009

Publicly Shaming Restaurants

Cockroach on an apple

Cockroach on an apple

Have you ever heard the joke – “What’s the only thing worse than finding a cockroach on an apple … finding half a cockroach?”

It’s kind of relevant with the newspaper carrying a story about a new iPhone app called “Food Watch NSW”.  Food Watch will identify New South Wales (Australia) restaurants fined for breach of food hygiene standards.  The app developer is sourcing the data from the  NSW Food Authority.

The Authority  has a policy to name and shame restaurants, to give consumers more information about where they eat or buy food.  Food safety breaches are posted for 12 months on their website.  The iPhone developers plan to have the same deadline.

This type of geographical consumer awareness application is becoming increasingly common, as more government organisations make their information available in a machine-readable format.  If you’re not already aware of this trend:

  • In the US, EveryBlock regularly reports this, for a number of cities.  This information is collected from local government and provided free to the consumer, including via a free iPhone application.
  • Scores on the doors is a UK example.  Councils subscribe to the service, and the information is provided free to the consumer.   There is a mobile phone SMS query option.
  • In New Zealand, Sam Giffney has had limited success in extracting the information from local government.  In several cases, councils have requested payment for this public information.

What are the implications?

As a consumer

  • I will choose where I eat or buy food more carefully
  • I may start to want more information e.g. if its my favourite restaurant, I’d like to know its long-term history of breaches, perhaps it was a one-off
  • Why can’t the information be real-time (vision of eating in a restaurant and getting an alert about the cockroach out back)

As a government agency

  • I will need to ensure the information is correct – I may be putting a small business out of operation.
  • I will need a way to quickly remedy incorrect information
  • I will face increasing pressure to publish in real-time (to maximise public safety)

As a business owner

  • I may go out of business, as more people have information at their finger tips.
  • I will start to demand government agencies respond in real-time.  If a problem is identified, and I fix it immediately, how quickly can I be re-inspected?


What do you think the implications are?

How it works

For non-iPhone users, I have included some examples of how Food Watch NSW works:

Apple iPhone App - Food Watch NSW

Apple iPhone App - Food Watch NSW

Map - NSW food hygiene breaches

Map - NSW food hygiene breaches

Map - Sydney breaches

Map - Sydney breaches

Latest food hygiene breaches

Latest food hygiene breaches

Breach details

Breach details



  1. Several years ago I sponsored the Cafe of the Year Awards as a form of positive motivation to perform. Every cafe in NZ got a serving tray with voting forms for their customers to complete. This motivated management and staff to improve their game, with the consequence of increased business and good publicity.

    I’d like to see more people shouting out about good service.

    • Hi Luigi, you make a good point. People need to consider the good and bad points about a business, to get a more holistic impression, so they can choose where to spend their money.

  2. Ten thousand eating places in NZ have webpages on
    I would love to see standardized food hygiene systems made available to the public.
    We could easily update those in real-time on MenuMania via PC and phone, given the willingness of government or council departments.
    It would be incredibly useful to our community of 90,000 diners a month.
    It would be fantastic to publish a factual grading system for each restaurant, cafe or takeaway.

    • Hi Karen, that is an excellent idea, although I suggest we actually want to think more about standardised automatic data feeds, faster, more accurate, lower cost.

      We would need to write to Minister for Local Govt and Minister for Health, to get action on a NZ standard.

      A number of NZ companies talk about Govt Open Data in the Open Government Ninjas group. There is a discussion here:

      You are welcome to join it and post your comment there too.

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