ST. PAUL — Minneapolis published a trove of its restaurant inspection records online this month but it doesn't look like the rest of the state will do the same any time soon, government and industry officials said.
The city on Jan. 3 announced that its municipal health department would make inspection reports accessible through a searchable web database in an effort to "improve transparency." But the state Department of Health, which oversees restaurant licensing and inspection for many Minnesota communities, does not currently offer a similar service.
"There certainly has been discussion about it and it's something we are considering and looking at," department spokesperson Doug Schultz said in an interview this week.
Schultz said the department is still weighing the software costs and man-hours that publishing the records online would require. He added that restaurants licensed through the state health department have had "mixed reactions" to the idea.
Inspection reports on restaurants under state jurisdiction can still be obtained upon request, either by calling or emailing the department.
While some local and county agencies have been granted authority over food safety by the state health department, many still rely on the latter for restaurant and lodging regulation. Bloomington, Brooklyn Park, Edina, Maplewood, Minneapolis, Minnetonka, Richfield, St. Cloud and Wayzata are the only cities in Minnesota that have been delegated by the state health department to license and inspect restaurants.
That could limit the ability of local governments to launch databases like Minneapolis's, according to League of Minnesota Cities research manager Amber Eisenschenk. Still, she said she wasn't aware of any cities that reached out to her organization to express an interest in doing so.
Although delegated agencies use the same criteria to grade and inspect restaurants, Schultz said that compiling their food inspection data for a statewide repository could potentially still be difficult. Some of the local delegates, he said, may not be able to easily share their data because they lack sophisticated information technology infrastructures.
Because health inspection reports provide only a snapshot of food safety practices and not a history of it, Schultz said that some restaurant operators are wary of making them available online. Hospitality Minnesota government relations director Ben Wogsland said if presented without context, such information could mislead diners.
Wogsland said he doesn't expect other cities in Minnesota to follow Minneapolis's lead in publishing health inspection records online because of cost concerns.