Chicago IG says 20 more public health inspectors in the works

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Although Chicago’s health department has plans to add less than half the number of the restaurant inspectors the city’s Inspector General Joe Ferguson recommended, he says it should be enough to perform the minimum number of inspections required by state law.

In a follow-up report issued Wednesday, Ferguson said the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) and the city’s Office of Budget Management are crunching numbers to allow for the hiring of 20 more sanitarians to do inspections and three supervisors.

That will give the city about 60 inspectors for its 15,000 restaurants — which on Tuesday earned the Windy City the title of Restaurant City of the Year for 2017 from Bon Appetit Magazine.

Ferguson’s initial report in September 2016 said 56 inspectors would have to be added to meet state law, which requires “high-risk” food operations to be inspected twice a year. The city only met that requirement for 43.9 percent of its restaurants in 2015, according to Ferguson.

The sanitarians who inspect restaurants are also charged with inspecting grocery stores, bars, bakeries and delis, which are all classified as high-risk.

Medium-risk food operations, which are supposed to be inspected once a year, were much closer to meeting state minimums. Chicago inspected 80 percent of them as required by Illinois law, which is based on recommendations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

However, inspection frequency minimums weren’t met for even a fourth of low-risk operations, with only 24.8 percent of them inspected per state requirements. Low-risk operations are supposed to be inspected every two years.

The 20 new sanitarians and three new supervisors should resolve the problem, Ferguson said in his report.

“According to CDPH, this personnel increase, based on historical performance and in consideration of state law allowing for the self-inspection of low-risk food establishments, will allow the department to comply with the state’s required inspection frequency,” the inspector general wrote in his follow-up report.

Chicago spends about $10.5 million on its Food Protection Program annually.

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