Restaurant Rating System Emphasizes Food Safety

Midsection of senior man eating strip steak served with loaded baked potato and broccoli at restaurant table

Have you noticed the new food safety rating window signs in local restaurants? Starting in mid-January, inspectors from Public Health—Seattle & King County began issuing signs that can tell you how well a restaurant practices food safety. The new system was developed in response to people throughout King County saying they wanted more information about restaurant inspections—not just online but easily seen at restaurants in question.

Restaurant food safety ratings now range from “Needs to Improve” (meets minimum standards) to “Okay” to “Good” to “Excellent.” On a rolling basis throughout 2017 and into 2018, restaurants will receive one of these four food safety ratings after routine health department inspections. If a restaurant doesn’t meet minimum standards, it is closed until it can comply with health regulations.

Each of the four rating emojis (symbols) has a different color—gray or shades of green—and no smile, a slight smile, a big smile, or a laughing smile. These appear to be universally understood. Note that the lowest rating is not a frown; rather, it is without expression. The “Needs to Improve” rating indicates that the restaurant has been closed for health violations within the last year or that the restaurant needed multiple return inspections to fix food safety practices.

Restaurants in the “Okay” category have had many critical violations. Restaurants in the “Good” category have had some violations. Restaurants in the “Excellent” category have had no or few violations.

food rating system show four emojis (faces) with no smile, slight smile, medium smile, and large smile, to represent Needs to Improve, Okay, Good, and Excellent

Public Health solicited input on seven different drafts in 2016, and received input from 3,800 people.

King County has over 12,000 restaurants, which are typically inspected one to three times per year by 45 food inspectors, so the rating system will be phased in and a few restaurants will not be inspected until very early 2018. The first restaurant ratings were issued in Seattle (north of I-90), Shoreline, and Lake Forest Park. Starting in April, Seattle restaurants south of I-90 as well as restaurants on Vashon Island and in Bellevue will receive ratings. East King County gets ratings starting in July. The final phase will start in October in south King County.

Food safety is important for everyone, but especially older adults. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says that as we grow older, our bodies may hold on to food longer, our internal organs don’t rid our bodies of toxins as easily as they once did, our sense of taste and/or smell may have changed, and we may have chronic conditions that weaken our immune system. So it’s good to take special care with foods at home and to know more about the health department’s restaurant ratings when we go out.

For more information about the new rating system, visit If you have a smart phone, you can also text the words “king food” to 468311 to receive information about the rating system. Information is available in eight languages.

If you have comments about the rating system, Public Health—Seattle & King County can be reached by e-mail at

Contributor David Baker is chair of the Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging & Disability Services, which publishes AgeWise King County. He is mayor of the City of Kenmore and vice-chair of the King County Board of Health. Mayor Baker welcomes input from readers via e-mail ( as well as applicants for open positions on the council. For more information, visit

This article originally appeared in AgeWise King County. Read more at (subscribe for free at the top of that page).