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?

  • 4
    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, 2013 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-; Dec 28, 2013 at 11:32
  • 2
    @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, 2013 at 11:33
  • 1
    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! Dec 30, 2013 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, 2014 at 20:38

2 Answers 2


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):


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.

  • This is exactly what I was looking for! Well done. Jan 11, 2014 at 5:47
  • 1
    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, 2014 at 5:51

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.

  • 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! Jan 6, 2014 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, 2014 at 2:43
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    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. Jan 8, 2014 at 12:17

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