Yelp this week announced that it will begin including restaurant hygiene scores on listings in select cities, as part of a government-backed effort to increase transparency for consumers and boost promotion for local businesses. As CEO Jeremy Stoppelman explained in a blog post Wednesday, the feature will be available soon for users in San Francisco and New York first, before expanding to other major cities.

At the core of Yelp's initiative is an open data standard called "Local Inspector Value-entry Specification," or LIVES. Developed in collaboration with the technology departments of New York and San Francisco — and with "guidance and encouragement" from the Obama administration — LIVES allows local municipalities to import restaurant health scores directly into Yelp's database. Inspection data will be displayed prominently on a restaurant's Yelp page, where users will also be able to view an establishment's hygiene score history.

An incentive for cleanliness

Stoppelman acknowledged that this public-private partnership won't "provide a direct contribution to Yelp's bottom line," though he said it should encourage high-scoring businesses to promote their cleanliness. The CEO also cited a recent study of Los Angeles-area restaurants, which found that greater transparency about restaurant hygiene can lower hospitalization rates for food-borne illnesses. Yelp says the new health scores will begin rolling out in New York and San Francisco "in the weeks ahead," before expanding to Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia.