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Kanawha health department launches food app

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If you're looking for the cleanest places to eat in Kanawha County, there's an app for that -- and a lot of other food-related tips, too.

The Kanawha Charleston Health Department will officially launch a new food app tonight at its health board meeting.

The app, which until now has been in testing, gives users access to the latest county restaurant inspections, a restaurant locater and calorie information. It also has a list of food safety question and answers and tips for managing weight loss.

"Essentially it's operating like a one-stop shop," said Nasandra Wright, sanitarian supervisor for the health department.

The health department, with the help of Charleston-based Terradon Communications Group developed the app for about $5,000, said Dr. Rahul Gupta, the department's health officer.

Sanitarians from the health department use software that allows them to update the restaurant inspections as soon as they have a wifi connection. App users can see a color-coded rating of green for excellent, yellow for good, or orange for fair compliance with the food code for each restaurant in Kanawha County. They can also read the critical and non-critical violations that the restaurants received. People can search for a restaurant by name or use the GPS-powered locator to find nearby eateries.

The app has a section with calorie information for several area chain restaurants, including Chick-fil-a, McDonald's, Dairy Queen and Five Guys. The app tells you how many calories each food item has, and the amount of physical exercise you will need to do to burn off those calories.

For instance, there are 430 calories in a chicken sandwich from Chick-fil-a. According to the app, you would need to walk 3.8 miles to walk off the calories from the sandwich alone. Add to that a large order of waffle fries and you would have consumed another 430 calories and would have to walk a total of 7.6 miles to burn off the entire meal.

Walking off an entire meal is not the point, though, Gupta said.

"It's not that we expect people to walk off all that but we hope that they'll eat [the amount] that they need to and not any extra," Gupta said.

The food safety question and answer section has answers to a whole host of questions that someone might ask while preparing food.

"We have so many, I don't know how many questions we have," Gupta said. "Everything from what are bison to what temperature should I cook pork at."

Other examples include "Are duck eggs edible?" (they are, by the way), "Are microwaved hamburgers safe?" and "Are pre-stuffed turkeys safe?"

In the weight loss management section, users can find tips for losing weight including decreasing portion size, eating the right amount of calories, eating fewer empty calories and increasing physical activity.

Wright recently did a presentation about the food app at the American Public Health Association Conference in Boston, she said. Many people there were interested in replicating the app for their areas, she said. She's also heard from people in other countries who have downloaded the app and are using it. Much of the information -- calorie information for chain restaurants for instance -- is helpful even for those outside of Kanawha County, she said.

Kanawha-Charleston used a similar app from the New York City health department as a guide for developing their own but added some of their own features, Gupta said.

Gupta said he hopes the app will help educate the public about eating a healthy meal and make them more aware of food safety.

He also hopes the knowledge of calorie information helps combat the obesity problem in West Virginia and especially the Kanawha Valley.

"People will, if nothing else, know what they're eating and over time this will hopefully improve the behavioral habits," Gupta said. "They'll start to eat more healthy."

The KCHD Food app is available for Android and iPhone. 

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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