Montreal: Is your favourite restaurant on the filthy list?

Captions: Google maps

Website’s menu features health-code violators
By Andy Riga, The Gazette February 15, 2011 Comments (2)

How clean is your dinner destination tonight? We’ve got the latest data on which Montreal restaurants have been fined for health infractions.

MONTREAL – Would you want to know if the restaurant you’re about to eat at might be closed for health-code violations any minute?

You can in New York City, where a website called Donteat.at sends subscribers a text message as they walk into restaurants that are among those with the worst violation records.

Donteat.at combines New York City health department data with Foursquare, an online service that tracks your location using the GPS in your smartphone.

It’s not quite that sophisticated in Montreal yet, but this city’s restaurant patrons now have a website that taps into local Health Department violations to help them navigate establishments that prepare, serve and/or sell food.

Launched in September, Resto-Net was created by three local Web developers and programmers. The service has been embedded on The Gazette’s website (montrealgazette.com/restaurantinspections).

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Clicking on the restaurant name gives visitors the dates and descriptions of infractions – from employees not wearing hairnets to businesses operating in an environment “not free from rodents or their droppings.”

The data come from the city of Montreal’s difficult-to-navigate website.

Resto-Net makes the information easier to find and searchable using maps, noted Jeff Wallace, who created the site with James McKinney and Jonathan Brun. The three are members of Montreal Ouvert, a citizen initiative that promotes open access to civic information via the Internet.

Unlike the city’s official site, Resto-Net is bilingual. It also offers extra features: Users can find which establishments were fined the most and how long it took between the infraction being committed and the restaurant being fined.

“It’s great that the information is out there, but the (city’s) interface and the accessibility isn’t quite what it could be,” said Wallace, 23.

“It’s tough for the city to invest the funds” to make its site more user friendly and add features. “But if it’s publicly accessible data anybody can come along and make something, try it out and see what happens.”

Resto-Net’s map indicates Chinatown is the neighbourhood with the largest number of infractions, perhaps because the area has a high concentration of restaurants.

The top three violators across the island during the past four years: a grocery store in St. Michel ($30,200), a grocery store in Chinatown ($29,300) and a restaurant in Montreal North ($28,500).

The city of Montreal conducts food inspections of establishments that prepare, serve, sell, distribute and warehouse food in the city

and in demerged Montreal Island municipalities.

Inspectors examine food, storage, cooking methods, equipment and the locale.

Every food establishment is visited at least once every 10 years. Those representing the biggest potential danger to the public are visited more frequently, the city says.
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A restaurant found guilty four years ago shouldn’t necessarily be shunned – but repeat offenders should set off alarm bells, Wallace said.

“It would be nice if the city (made public) not only fines but also inspection reports,” he added. “If a restaurant was fined and then passed an inspection, then you get that contrast. You could see they have cleaned up their act since they had this infraction. Now you only see the infraction, so you think they probably still have problems.”

ariga@montrealgazette.com

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