Heath Inspections: The Taste Of Chicago Is Apparently The Foulest Thing Ever

The always excellent Chicago Reporter informs us that the annual mass tourist migration known as the Taste of Chicago is basically the foulest thing ever. If you’ll recall, last year the Taste was struck by an outbreak of salmonella— so this year the Reporter has gathered some disgusting statistics and anecdotes guaranteed to make you think twice before buying those tickets.

The Reporter obtained copies of the Chicago Department of Public Health’s daily inspection reports for the vendors who are returning to this year’s event after participating at last year’s event, which attracted 3.6 million visitors. The Reporter found that in 2007:

* More than 85 percent of the 67 food vendors had violations during their onsite inspections.

* Of the 57 vendors with violations, the average number of violations per restaurant was four.

* Nearly 40 percent of all violations occurred during the first three days of the festival.

* One restaurant, Star of Siam, was cited for storing an open container of vinegar next to an open container of bleach. Another, La Justicia, was cited for storing enchilada sauce in a container that read “dish soap.”

The Reporter also said that 10 people will be filing lawsuits against Pars Cove Restaurant in connection with the salmonella outbreak that may have sickened up to 790 people at the taste last year. The salmonella was eventually traced back to some contaminated hummus.

Leaving A Bad Taste [Chicago Reporter]

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  1. BoomerFive says:

    Ahh yes, outdoor festivals and food that isn’t deep fried. But come on, who wouldn’t want hummus from a booth vendor?

  2. CaliCheeseSucks says:

    Moral of the story: Don’t eat hummus.

  3. GrantGannon says:

    Flight lands at Midway at 4:00. TOC ‘was’ in the weekend plans. Hmmmm.

  4. Funny, I purposely avoided La Justica and Star of Siam last Saturday. Nothing they were serving sounded like it would have sat well in the heat. The Polish w/ kraut and mustard from Polka Sausage was amazing though.

  5. Eryk says:

    Living in Chicago for nearly all my life, I rarely if ever go to the Taste anymore. Its far too crowded, no matter the time/day you go, and just about the dirtiest festival this city has to offer. There are fairs in the middle of Wisconsin that are cleaner, and they have cow dung laying everywhere.

    I’ll just visit the individual restaurants in my own time, thank you.

  6. pollyannacowgirl says:

    Well, what kills me is that I see food handlers doing things with their gloved hands and then going back to food prep. Makes no difference whether the contaminants are on bare hands or gloves. That’s like wearing the same condom for sex with five different people. The only thing that’s protected is the member under the latex. Everything else gets cross-contaminated.

  7. Star of Siam’s really good, though, at the real place. Not sure I ever had them at Taste.

    (And while Taste is awesome in theory, and it’s kinda neat to go see all the places, it’s actually like the living execution of every midwestern stereotype ever, except the boring food one. All those sweaty, 3/4-naked, overweight tourists pressed up together in the stinky July heat chowing down on food on sticks … I get hives just thinking about it. And then they’re all on the Metra when you’re trying to go home from work.

  8. loganmo says:

    Go to the Wisconsin State Fair in Milwaukee if you want to try a bunch of good restaurants. The vending areas actually have built-in permanent restaurant grade equipment so the food is, you know, safe to eat.

  9. (And, dude, we have so many Chicagoans on Consumerist, we should have a beer-focused gathering next time our revered Meg is visiting the family homestead, which IIRC is in/near Chicago.)

  10. @Eyebrows McGee: Uhh…Ewww. Thanks for that. I never thought about it that way and I hope to be able to forget that image. This year Taste seemed a little less crowded but that may have had something to do with the forecast calling for rain all weekend.

  11. FunPaul says:

    When I lived in the suburbs we used to call it ‘Taste of Botulism’ for the level of attention the vendors paid to sanitary compliance.

  12. DarrenO says:

    Yeah, who couldn’t guess that it might not be a good idea to stack a bunch of booths out in the usually hot Chicago sun and cook food for a couple weeks? I’ll stick to actually going into the restaurants if I want their food. Not that that’s always better from a health standpoint.

    Go White Sox!

  13. Japheaux says:

    Many times it’s not even the food that causes the issues. I eat at a local Subway and always ask that they never cut the foor-long sandwich. One day the guys asks me why I order it that way and I told him the knife loaded with mayo or meat juices sits there all day.

    And @Pollyannacowgirl, you are RIGHT! Why do vendors hand me my change wearing the same plastic gloves they use when making the next sandwich? Who the hell are they protecting by doing that? I never understand how they believe it ‘looks’ sanitary.

    I think if everyone prepared and served food as if they themselves were going to eat it, we could cut the shit-eating problems in half immediately.

    And try the Uncle Franks Deep-Fried Head Cheese.

    And while I am on the soapbox

  14. timmus says:

    the knife loaded with mayo or meat juices sits there all day.

    Hmm, wouldn’t it sort of get self-cleaned each time it cuts through a sandwich? Good point though.

  15. The few booths I got food from had one group of people making the food with gloves one and once my food was made, they handed it off to the person who took my tickets who then handed it to me. That seems just about the same as a cook at a restaurant making it and handing it over to the waitress who then puts it in front of me. I’ve been eating at Taste just about every year since I was little and I’ve never gotten sick.

  16. Farquar says:

    @timmus: Um.. no. Bacteria doesn’t just slough off.

  17. Farquar says:

    Back in the day I couldn’t care less about bacteria and food safety. This sort of thing would be right up my alley. A gathering of delicious and incredibly unhealthy food. Sign me up. My wife has ruined that for me. Now I notice every unsanitary thing that happens. Ignorance was bliss.

    We’ve walked out of restaurants mid-order because we saw someone in food prep pick up paper off the floor and not wash has hands before going back to food prep.

    She’s taken all the fun out of being a pig.

  18. katylostherart says:

    @Farquar: well actually it does to a point. which is why you can eat hard cheeses if you cut off moldy bits down into like half an inch past the mold or something.

  19. MeOhMy says:

    @pollyannacowgirl: There is a movement away from gloves for this reason – your hands don’t “feel” grimy so it leads to a sense of complacency. The only problem is that it doesn’t provide the customers the warm fuzzy feeling they are after.

  20. MeOhMy says:

    @katylostherart: Mold and bacteria are two different types organisms!

  21. vildechaia says:

    Never went. Never will. This just confirms my worst fears about TOC.

  22. Farquar says:

    @katylostherart:

    As mentioned cheese mold and nasty bacteria (read: e coli, salmonella) are entirely different things. Wiping a knife off on your pants (or even a clean rag) does not make it clean. Blowing off your orea cookie after you dropped it on the floor does not make it safe to eat. (but yes, I will still eat it.)

    And thank you Japheaux, now I can’t eat at subway. See, I’m good until you point these things out to me.

  23. katylostherart says:

    @Troy F.: point.

    wasn’t there also an article on consumerist talking about a microfiber cleaning cloth that removed bacteria and but did not sanitize because that’s the equivalent of killing 99.99% of it?

    and didn’t it basically kind of prove that just removing bacteria actually is enough in most cases.

    i’m really all for health regulations. i live in ct which has some of the poorest standards for the healthcode ever. basically if a restaurant fails inspection they probably killed someone or put them in the hospital. but sometimes people over sterilize shit.

    things like regularly washing your hands between poultry/meat and vegetables IS enough to keep it clean. gloves are over used.

  24. GirlCat says:

    @pollyannacowgirl: I see that a lot. I suspect it’s because they’re not so bright and no one explicitly told them WHY they’re wearing gloves, just The law says you must wear gloves while prepping food.

  25. Ben Clayton says:

    @Farquar: If anything, yes, cleaned right onto your sandwich.

  26. Germphobes!

  27. Mayor McRib says:

    I was a “sandwich artist” in the early days of Subway. We didn’t wear the gloves but we washed our hands. We cleaned the knives and switched them out for optimal sharpness. We also mixed the tuna and seafood ‘n crab with our bare hands and nobody got sick (that we know of). Germs are all around you, go back to your plastic bubble. Although, bad food temperature is something completely different.

  28. GothamGal says:

    The Taste of Chicago is disgusting, but not just for the health reasons. When I lived in Chicago, I saw the fattest people that I’ve ever seen waddle from booth to booth. The last thing that these people needed was more food. I never went back.

  29. Illusio26 says:

    I live in the Chicago burbs as well, and we avoid the taste. It is usally very crowded, so much that it’s unpleasant to be there. I’d rather not rub up against a bunch of fat, sweaty people for hours while I try to get food cooked in less than idea conditions.

    If I want good food, I’ll got to a restaurant.

  30. Dacker says:

    I never go to any “Taste of…” events anymore.

    Around 2000, my family and I went to “A Taste of Breckenridge” in Colorado (we lived in Denver.) Both my daughter and I got food poisoning!

    I mentioned this to my pediatrician. He also avoids such events. Unless the vendor is meticulous about heating, cooling, and sanitation, it’s a risk. It is not easy for a food vendor to follow the best practices when away from their commercial kitchens. Something will get too warm or too cool and the lack of running water within a few feet leads to shortcuts.

  31. MissTicklebritches says:

    Festival food is always a crap-shoot. I took a food safety course, and I can never look at it the same way.

  32. Geekybiker says:

    Man I hate the taste of chicago. This just gives me another reason not to go.

  33. isadora says:

    It’s not the germs that keep me from TOC–we’ll probably all die from the crappy industrial meat and farming industry anyway.

    It’s the crowds that keep me away. And the fact that there’s nowhere to sit and no shade. You just stand on hot cement and eat hot food in the midst of a massive crowd of people (the masses of people prevent a cool breeze from circulating off the lake and through the event). I just don’t like eating hot food on a hot day with nowhere to relax.

  34. FatLynn says:

    I ate food from six vendors at the taste yesterday, and I’m feeling just fine today!

    I think most of what I had was served hot, which is a little unpleasant in the heat, but it should kill bacteria, right?

    Right?

  35. myprozacdream says:

    I usually skip out on the taste anyway. it’s way too overcrowded/expensive. This weekend i went to the pride parade instead, and had WAY more fun that I’ve ever had at the taste. AND I didn’t get sick, just drunk…

  36. quirkyrachel says:

    So out of curiosity, would the food be safer during busy times (because the food turnover is higher), or during less busy times?

  37. SpdRacer says:

    I have been to the Taste maybe 3-4 times in my life, never had a problem, but agree that there are way to many people to make it an enjoyable experience. Also way too expensive, given the portion your getting. 5$ for a single rib or 3 wings is RIDICULOUS.

    And yes GO WHITE SOX, CUBS SUCK!

  38. Bmaz23 says:

    Got my tickets ready to go for Saturday!! Guess I am a glutton for punishment. I will prob. pass on the Star of Siam though. I think I saw “honey musterd encrusted catfish nuggets” on the list this year which I will definilty be getting!!

    And agreed………

    GO WHITE SOX!!
    (AJ, Alexi and O. Cab are all on a tear!)

  39. pixiegirl1 says:

    I haven’t gone to TOC in years. It doesn’t matter when you go it’s going to be overcrowded. I never had food poisoning at TOC but I am really super picky about what I eat. Usually we’d go down there to see what they have and check out the booths to see what free loot we can get our hands on and then head over to Lou’s for a pizza. We’d save money because the tickets are hella expensive and we know we are going to eat something we like.

  40. Japheaux says:

    @timmus: Exactly…that’s my point….I get the juice/mayo/lab culture from the last sandwich (that may have been made a half-hour ago) wiped on my bread. I love Subway and have noticed never a case of ‘stomach issues’ after I started my little request.

  41. Japheaux says:

    Oh….wait…one more and good news for those I may have steered away from Subway ( @ farquar). Today I discovered a Subway (in Canyon, Texas) that cuts the footlong bread in half BEFORE making the sandwich. In essence, making both halves separately and no need to cut the sandwich at the end of the process and smear it with leftover bacteria. Why doesn’t Subway make this a mandatory process nationwide? That store should be commended for their forethought.

  42. Kajj says:

    @Japheaux: I’m sure corporate would think that interfered with their sandwich/per/minute metrics or something.

  43. Farquar says:

    @Japheaux: Canyon Texas is a bit out of the way, but I guess if I really want delicious deli meats.. I’ll have to go.

    Though Jimmy Johns has delicious deli meats and I’m just going to make a habit of not watching them make any of the food they serve me.

    /I learn from ostriches. If I can’t see it, it can’t hurt me.

  44. MykalBloom says:

    Heh, I’m at the Taste at this very moment. Sure it’s dirty and crowded, but what do you expect from a giant gorgefest in the middle of Grant Park?

  45. KatieKate93 says:

    Just about every suburb around where I live has a Taste-of, and I always end up dragged to them. I’ve found that the only thing that gives me the warm-fuzzies is the ice cream, everything else makes me paranoid, even booths from restaurants I actually like.

    Besides, who wants to stand in a field in the middle of August and eat curry? Not I.

  46. Triterion says:

    I worked at this one restaurant that made us take the leftover bread on people’s table and put it in a bucket to use for breadcrumbs in other people’s salads…Gross! And they thought themselves a ‘fine dining’ restaurant. lol

  47. spryte says:

    @Japheaux: I’m totally with you on the “no cutting” – for me, it’s because I’m a vegetarian and knowing that the knife cutting my food has been slicing through piles of meat is nasty. I often get weird looks when I ask them not to cut it, but I just smile and let them think I’m weird.

    Seeing that over 85% of the places had violations…that’s awful. It would be nice if the booths had to post the most recent health inspection report from their restaurant.

  48. jacques says:

    @Farquar: Jimmy Johns doesn’t cut their sandwiches afterwards. One size fits all!

  49. zlionsfan says:

    @spryte: That is closer to my position on cutting the foot-long subs … I’m not a vegetarian, but I don’t care for mayo at all, even a little bit of it, and I’d rather not have any on any part of my sub. (The possibility that it might be hours-old mayo doesn’t improve my perception of it at all.)

  50. emington says:

    Having worked in a “fast-paced” food environment similar to this one, I can say that it’s very difficult to stick to regulations and please customers at the same time. For example, we didn’t check the temperature of every single piece of meat to come off of the grill, even though it was a rule (we checked one or two per batch). Some people wore hats instead of hairnets (the horror!). In any case, we never had anyone become sick from our food.

  51. god_forbids says:

    A similar event here in Honolulu (Flavors of Honolulu) has been going off in one form or another for over 15 years with no health code violations that I know of. Generally it’s tasty and not too crowded, but this made me wonder if the Dept of Health is keeping a close eye on the event. Hmmm.

  52. god_forbids says:

    testing, testing?

  53. Tansis says:

    I remember working at a BBQ booth serving customers during the Taste of Chicago. The booth was so small and crowded. It was difficult keeping things cleaned and organized all the time. The heat also made it unbearable to work there. Sweat from the cook’s covered head still managed to get on the meat. It really didn’t matter if I made a comment, or not, the food was going to be served. I do want to point out that if your eating a deep fried snickers at the Taste, you really aren’t worrying about the food.

  54. Ubik2501 says:

    @Eryk: Amen to that. Besides, it’s better to support the local neighborhood festivals going on during the summer, if you’re going to go to any outdoor events at all.

    Me, I’ll take a quiet day on the beach, followed by beer & brats back home, over the Taste no matter what.