Less than half of Chicago restaurants received required inspections, report finds

CHICAGO -- A scathing report out Tuesday from the city’s Inspector General on Chicago restaurant inspections finds that well under half received the inspections required by law, and that non-compliance may be the norm.

But what’s most surprising is the way the Health Department responded to this report. It couldn’t say when it had last met the proper standards, if ever. The Inspector General says it’s probably not time to panic. But it’s definitely time to make some changes.

City of Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson said restaurants use a "quiet little work-around" to perpetuate a "permanent state of non-compliance." It turns out there’s a huge difference between what the city says it’s been doing, and what it’s really been doing, he said.

According to the IG's report:

  • Fewer than 44 percent of "high-risk" establishments (aka restaurants) were inspected the required two times in 2015
  • 80 percent of "medium risk businesses" (aka grocery stores) got their inspections
  • Less than 25 percent of the "low-risk" spots (aka bars) were inspected even once in 2014 or 2015

"I have to look at the reports and get comments from the departments that are responsible to make sure that people can go into a bar or restaurant with confidence as it relates to the cleaning of it," said Mayor Rahm Emanuel after hearing about the study.

The mayor’s office promised to use data to prioritize health inspections over a year ago. And while the IG's report is very critical of restaurant inspections, it praises the Chicago Department of Public Health for doing a great job with the limited resources it has.

Ferguson also suggests forcing restaurants to pay for a re-inspection could be a solution. And while he said he isn't necessarily concerned about food safety, he said the key to start signaling that the City is monitoring it. Another reason to make some changes: not doing so could cost the city state health protection funding.