Investigation finds not enough food safety inspectors in Chicago, officials push for changes

CHICAGO -- In a city known for its vibrant restaurant scene it's a problem that's hard to digest.

An investigation reveals that Chicago doesn't have enough food safety inspectors. Fewer than half of the city's restaurants were inspected twice for food safety in 2015, breaking state law.

Joe Ferguson, the Inspector General, released a follow-up report Wednesday urging the city's department of public health to follow through on corrective action to make sure restaurants are handling your food safely.

The inspector general's report last year found the Chicago Department of Public Health performed the required number of routine food inspections at *less than half* of the establishments considered high-risk.

Those includes places like restaurants, hospital kitchens, day care centers and schools.
One of the big issues? According to the report -- not enough staff.

The recommendation? That CDPH hire at least 56 additional sanitarians to conduct inspections. The department agreed to hire 20 plus three supervisors.

The inspector general released a follow-up report, today saying CDPH is working with the state department of public health on new regulatory standards and allowing the self-inspection of low-risk establishments such as gas stations and convenience stores would free up inspectors to focus on those that are higher-risk.

Ferguson says the department has made meaningful progress but whether the changes are enough, remains to be seen.

The department is also taking steps to evaluate food inspection fees and fines.

The inspector general's office will likely conduct another audit to follow-up on the changes in a year or two.

The Chicago Department of Public Health released a statement:

The Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) is committed to maintaining the safety of food bought, sold or prepared for public consumption in Chicago by carrying out science-based inspections of all retail and wholesale food establishments. These inspections promote public health in areas of food safety and sanitation and prevent the occurrence of food-borne illness. 

 

The OIG report concludes that CDPH has begun implementing corrective actions within its control which, once fully implemented, may reasonably be expected to resolve a substantial portion of the core findings noted in the audit, which includes the hiring of additional sanitarians. The federal standard mandates each sanitarian average 320 annual inspections. In 2016, CDPH sanitarians averaged 518 inspections per sanitarian position.With a goal to meet the state requirement, CDPH determined that 20 sanitarians will allow the Department to conduct all of the inspections required. CDPH is working with the Office of Budget and Management as well as the Mayor's Office to explore hiring additional sanitarians to meet the Illinois Department of Public Health requirements.

 

All of the inspection results are available to the public via the data portal, which can be found at  https://data.cityofchicago.org/Health-Human-Services/Food-Inspections/4ijn-s7e5