And what would you like today — fries, a salad, or our bestseller, a side of food poisoning?

Starting this week, diners in New York and San Francisco can at least know what they’re getting into before they eat the cockroach burger. Yelp, the crowd-sourced restaurant and venue review site, is adding information about health inspection ratings on its restaurant pages.

What’s the Deal?

Yelp’s business pages currently feature information about price and ambience, along with reviews from diners. Now, those pages will also feature a “Health Score,” a number from 0 to 100, which review-seekers can click to get more detailed information about specific violations. (Squeamish folks, beware: I clicked on a “92 out of 100” rating to find the restaurant had been written up for having rodents in the kitchen!) So far two restaurants in San Francisco (The Cheese Steak Shop and Royal Ground Coffee) have their scores up; data for other restaurants should be available soon.

The hygiene details are actually part of a system called the Local Inspector Value-entry Specification, or LIVES. Overseen by the White House, LIVES is a partnership between Yelp and the technology departments of the cities of San Francisco and New York. Other cities can also use the system to send Yelp their health inspection stats.

Is It Legit?

Maybe. It’s hard to say there’s any downside to more information about hygiene and health practices. But it’s not clear whether having access to hygiene ratings actually makes anyone healthier. Yelp’s CEO wrote a blog post citing research that suggests there are fewer instances of foodborne illnesses in areas where people can see hygiene ratingsImpact of restaurant hygiene grade cards on foodborne-disease hospitalizations in Los Angeles County. Rocke, A.R. Journal of Environmental Health 2005;68(3):48.. And other investigations have found that restaurants with low inspection scores tend to be the culprits behind food poisoning outbreaksResults of routine restaurant inspections can predict outbreaks of foodborne illness: the Seattle-King County experience. Irwin, K., Ballard, J., Grendon, J., et al. Centers for Disease Control, Atlanta, GA. American Journal of Public Health 1989;79(5):586-90.A risk-based restaurant inspection system in Los Angeles County. Buchholz, U., Run, G., Kool, J.L., et al. Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, Acute Communicable Disease Control, California. Journal of Food Protection 2002;65(2):367-72..

On the other hand, some studies (in the U.S. and abroad) have found that food hygiene inspection scores can’t necessarily predict which restaurants are associated with foodborne illness outbreaksAre staff management practices and inspection risk ratings associated with foodborne disease outbreaks in the catering industry in England and Wales? Jones, S.L., Parry, S.M., O’Brien, S.J., et al. Department of Primary Care and Public Health, Cardiff University, Centre for Health Science Research, School of Medicine, Neuadd Meirionnydd, Heath Park, Cardiff, Wales, UK. Journal of Food Protection 2008;71(3):550-7.Restaurant inspection scores and foodborne disease. Jones, T.F., Pavlin, B.I., LaFleur, B.J., et al. Tennessee Department of Health, Nashville, Tennessee. Emerging Infectious Diseases 2004;10(4):688-92.. Yelp’s initiative may just provide the data we need to figure out how effective health inspection scores really are at preventing foodborne illness.

Will you rely on Yelp’s restaurant inspection data when it comes to your city? Let us know in the comments below or tweet the author directly at @ShanaDLebowitz.

Photo: Mr. T in DC