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At least here in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia I see posters/signs on the wall of most restaurants that seem to be issued by some government body giving a food safety rating.

Only three ratings are possible:

  • A green smiling face.
  • A yellow expressionless face.
  • A red frowning face.

Shanghai food safety rating sign
Shanghai: 食品安全监督公示 "food safety inspection notification" - Thanks to [Harald Groven / Flickr][4] for the photo.

Hohhot food safety rating sign
Hohhot, Inner Mongolia: 餐饮服食品安全等级公示 "Food Safety Grades Notification" - Photo by hippietrail.

But where can I read what they mean? Does the red frowning face mean "gutter oil detected" or "received more than ten complaints over twelve months" or "botulism / E. Coli found in samples" etc?

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Do you know if this signal is a nation-wide one? I have not seen it in Shanghai, Beijing and other places. –  uncovery Dec 28 '13 at 11:15
    
I have no idea. That information would be welcome in an answer. It's why I specifically mentioned Inner Mongolia and Hohhot because I've seen it all over the place here but can't recall whether I'd seen it elsewhere - since I'm not elsewhere now I can't check d-; –  hippietrail Dec 28 '13 at 11:32
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@uncovery, I have seen it in Beijing and Qufu; and I think I saw it also in Shanghai. It's not always hanging in the most visible places. I have, however, eaten only in B and C places (B places usually being a "normal" restaurant) without any problems. –  Rafa Dec 28 '13 at 11:33
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I took a photo of one in Hohhot yesterday. It has a different look and different wording but the smiley system is the same. I think the central government must have mandated some part and the regional governments each worked out the details a little differently. Even more reason to know the standard part! –  hippietrail Dec 30 '13 at 3:34
    
I found two people reporting about it's use in Shanghai. therobotmusteat.com/tag/shanghai kristhefoodie.com/2013/04/21/shanghai-restaurant-safety-tips –  Bernhard Jan 4 at 20:38
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2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted
+100

China Daily ran a piece about this that I found when I searched "food safety" + "smiley face" (食品安全 + 笑脸) announcing the launch of this system in 2011 in Tianjin. When I came to Shanghai in 2009, not many restaurants had these, and Shanghai was a 1st tier city by then. I guess this system spread to 2nd tier cities by 2011, thus this article. The article explains the faces much the way Mark described them above.

The report states that these faces/ratings are in accordance with a document called the Catering Service Food Safety Supervision and Quantitative Classification Management Guide《餐饮服务食品安全监督量化分级管理指南》

The article paraphrases the document by detailing what is assessed (while not exactly saying how, which is unsurprising for state media here):

据了解,持有《餐饮服务许可证》的餐饮服务单位,包括餐馆、快餐店、小吃店、饮品店、食堂、集体用餐配送单位和中央厨房都将纳入分级管理。餐饮服务食品安全量化分级评定事项具体包括许可管理、人员管理、场所环境、设施设备、食品原料及食品、加工操作、餐饮具清洗消毒、食品添加剂、集体用餐配送单位和中央厨房的食品运输、食品留样等内容。餐饮服务食品安全监督量化等级分为动态等级和年度等级。动态等级是监管部门对餐饮服务单位每一次监督检查结果的评价。年度等级是监管部门对餐饮服务单位过去12个月内监督检查结果的综合评价。年度等级分为A级、B级、C级,动态等级分为优秀、良好、一般。未达到一般级别的,责令限期整改;整改不合格的,依法吊销《餐饮服务许可证》。

Rough translation: To hold a license to serve food (hotel, canteen, restaurant, etc...), the vendor must allow state food safety assessors to assess the following areas:

  • Their current license to serve food
  • Their personnel management records
  • The overall shop environment
  • The facilities and equipment
  • The food ingredients and food served
  • The food preparation operations
  • Tableware disinfection
  • Any food additives
  • How food is served (kitchen -> table)
  • How food is transported to the kitchen
  • Taste and quality of food served (they must sample the menu)

These checks are done "dynamically" (pop-ins) and annually (scheduled). If the score is "A" (smiley face) or "B" (flat face) they can keep their license. A's will have a follow-up in a year, B's will be subject to more dynamic follow-ups (I guess). C's will be re-reviewed after being given a chance to come up to code.

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This is exactly what I was looking for! Well done. –  hippietrail Jan 11 at 5:47
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Happy to help! I've actually been wondering this too and never bothered to look into it. I'm surprised it's so rigorous, but I'd take that with a grain of salt. –  brendanc Jan 11 at 5:51
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According to an international food safety blog about the issue, they mean:

  • a green smiley face means a restaurant has exceeded inspection requirements
  • A yellow face means the restaurant passed the inspection
  • a red 'frowny' face means it failed.

Of course, this does not tell you how stringent these requirements are. At least it means it's not 'x number of complaints' as you suggested - it's actually getting inspected by the government, so is at least an official standards-based recognition.

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Well it was the requirements I was hoping for, but you still found something deterministic about them, so the best we've got after 9 days! Oh and the part about the bar codes seems really relevant too! –  hippietrail Jan 6 at 2:36
    
I figured from a travel perspective, that's all one needs. Actual requirements by the FDA become a different issue :) –  Mark Mayo Jan 6 at 2:43
    
Is it standards-based though? I think calling "exceeding unknown requirements" vs "passed unknown requirements" vs "failed unknown requirements" a standard is a bit of a stretch. There may be a standard, but to me it makes more sense to say we can't be sure either way yet on the info we have. –  hippietrail Jan 8 at 12:17
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