Chicago Doesn’t Even Have Half The Health Inspectors Needed To Inspect High-Risk Restaurants

Image courtesy of Cpt. Brick

While it might be reassuring to see a sign posted in your favorite restaurant or other food establishment that it’s earned the approval of the city health department, that doesn’t necessarily mean health inspectors have actually been by recently to do their job.

An audit [PDF] of recent health inspections in Chicago found that the city’s Department of Public Health inspection program is “seriously understaffed,” with not even half the number of inspectors it would need to comply with state requirements.

In order to complete all the inspections necessary, CDPH would need 94 inspectors. It currently has 38 on staff.

Under Illinois law, there are three categories of restaurants, based on the level of risk: High-risk eateries — generally meaning restaurants, hospital kitchens, schools where the food is prepared on-site; Medium-risk — grocery stores, bakeries, delis; and Low-Risk — gas stations, convenience stores and other places where only beverages and pre-packaged foods are served.

The state requires that high-risk establishments are inspected twice annually. Medium-risk shops get a check-up every year, and low-risk stores are to be inspected every two years.

The OIG says that CDPH inspected only 3,566, or 43.9%, of high-risk establishments at least twice in 2015; only 2,478, or 80.1%, of medium-risk establishments at least once in 2015; and only 1,078, or 24.8%, of low-risk establishments at least once in 2014 or 2015.

All told, the city conducted 20,900 food inspections in 2015, falling far short of the 30,026 it was supposed to do.

“CDPH’s inability to meet the state standards not only undermines public trust in the city’s capacity to fulfill this fundamental local governmental function. It also places at risk millions of dollars in annual grant funding,” funding,” writes Inspector General Joseph Ferguson.

That being said, CDPH did conduct timely re-inspection of violations identified during initial inspections, the OIG noted, as well as timely inspections when responding to public complaints about restaurants submitted by consumers through the city’s 311 system.

The OIG is now recommending to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration that it collaborate with the Illinois Department of Public Health to design and implement a new inspection schedule that is “feasible to execute and sufficiently rigorous to promote food safety.”

If that doesn’t happen, OIG suggests that CDPH work with the Office of Budget and Management, “as well as the state officials charged with awarding grant funds dedicated for this purpose, to secure sufficient funding to achieve compliance with the existing inspection-frequency rules.”

The CDPH responded to the audit by agreeing with the OIG’s recommendation, and says it’s committed to achieving compliance with the help of the state.

(h/t Chicago Sun-Times)

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.