New Dashboard Tracks Health Department Restaurant Closures Across Baltimore County
BALTIMORE COUNTY - Have you ever navigated rush-hour traffic for the perfect dine-out experience, only to discover your chosen restaurant was unexpectedly closed due to health department sanctions? Thanks to the determined advocacy of a local reporter, a new dashboard has been created to prevent such disappointments.
In a significant move towards public transparency, Baltimore County has recently launched an innovative dashboard that discloses all restaurants temporarily shut down by the county's health department due to various violations.
“Every resident deserves the ability to access critical information about their communities and this new tool is yet another way we are making information available,” County Executive Johnny Olszewski said in a statement.
The Baltimore Banner reports that this revolutionary tool results from persistent advocacy efforts by reporter Christina Tkacik.
Before the creation of the dashboard, interested residents and reporters were required to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to access health department records. Seeing this as an unnecessary barrier to accessing information clearly in the public's interest, Tkacik tweeted at the Baltimore County Government, requesting a change.
According to Tkacik, representatives from Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski's office reached out, pledging to address the issue. Within days, Tkacik says she was receiving regular updates from the health department and included them in the Banner's weekly food newsletter, The Dish.
However, Tkacik and the Banner remained unsatisfied with the lack of a public platform where residents could look up recent restaurant closures. This week, their efforts have culminated in the creation of an interactive map that includes restaurant closures in the county over the past year, alongside the reasons for the shutdown.
The map displays restaurant closures as color-coded dots, with red dots indicating establishments closed within the last three months. Public data such as the establishment name, date of closure, reason for closure, and reopen date will be available by selecting an establishment from the map or list. According to the health department, the map is updated daily with new data.
The list of critical violations that would result in closure includes:
- Food items obtained from an unapproved source or using an unapproved process
- Spoilage and/or contamination of food
- Pest infestation
- Employee(s) working while ill
- Not properly washing hands
- Not cooling products properly or not approved to cool products
- Cold foods held at improper temperatures and/or insufficient refrigeration
- Hot foods held at improper temperatures and/or insufficient hot holding equipment
- Food(s) not cooked to proper temperature(s)
- Food(s) not reheated to proper temperature(s) or not approved to reheat products
- Unapproved water supply or positive bacteriological result
- Insufficient hot and cold running water
- Sewage backup or overflow
It is important to note that many closures result from violations that might not appear overtly concerning to consumers, such as a simple leak or inadequate water temperature. According to the department, the new tool will also aid health inspectors by providing a comprehensive overview of restaurant closures in the county.