The Office of Inspector General (OIG) audited the food establishment inspections program of the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) Food Protection Division. CDPH “promotes food safety and sanitation through the inspection of food establishments,” including restaurants, grocery stores, bakeries, delis, daycares, hospital kitchens, and school cafeterias.
The objectives of the audit were to determine whether,
- CDPH conducts routine inspections of food establishments as frequently as required by the Department’s rules and regulations;
- CDPH conducts timely reinspections and complaint-based inspections as required by the Department’s rules and regulations; and
- food inspection records on the City’s Data Portal are complete and accurate.
OIG found that CDPH did not conduct routine inspections of food establishments as frequently as required. High-risk establishments must be inspected twice annually; medium-risk establishments must be inspected once a year; and low-risk establishments must be inspected once every two years. We found 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.
Although the Department did not conduct routine inspections as frequently as required by law, OIG found that CDPH did conduct timely reinspections of violations identified during initial inspections. CDPH also conducted timely inspections in response to public complaints about food establishments received through the City’s 311 system.
OIG further found that CDPH’s relationship with its database vendor did not follow policies put forth by the Department of Procurement Services (DPS) and the Department of Innovation and Technology (DOIT) regarding data maintenance and licensing. CDPH did not procure the software through DPS and not have a contract with the vendor, which is required because the vendor provides data storage and maintenance in addition to a software license.
Finally, we determined that the food establishment inspection data posted to the City’s Data Portal is complete and accurate.
OIG concludes that CDPH does not have the staff resources necessary to conduct routine inspections as frequently as required under the standards prescribed by state law. We estimate that CDPH needs at least 56 additional sanitarians to conduct the legally required number of food inspections. 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 state grant funding. For at least the past few years, CDPH has maintained its eligibility for these funds by securing from the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) approval of a series of “corrective action plans,” which allow less than full compliance with the generally applicable standards. There is no guarantee, however, that IDPH will continue to accommodate the City in this manner.
We therefore recommend that CDPH collaborate with IDPH to design and implement a permanent food inspection schedule that is feasible from resources that can be made available to CDPH, effective in promoting food safety, and sufficient to preserve CDPH’s certification as a local public health department. This collaboration might include consulting with government agencies, academic institutions, and health-focused non-governmental organizations to develop a science-based understanding of what food inspection regimen would optimally protect public health without placing an undue burden on the public fisc. Once the new schedule is established, CDPH should work with the Office of Budget and Management (OBM) to acquire sufficient staff for implementation. If necessary, the City should consider funding additional sanitarians from the fee, fine, and license revenue generated by food inspection operations that is currently directed to the Corporate Fund for use as determined by OBM, rather than earmarked to enable CDPH to fulfill this crucial element of its mission. In the event the City is unable to implement the strategy outlined above, we recommend that CDPH seek from OBM and/or IDPH the resources necessary to bring its food inspection program into compliance with the existing State requirements.
Finally, we recommend that CDPH continue to work with DPS and DOIT to bring its vendor relationship into compliance with City policies.
In response to our audit findings and recommendations, CDPH stated that it will work with IDPH to develop a permanent inspection schedule that is “feasible to execute and sufficiently rigorous to promote food safety.” If a new schedule is agreed upon, CDPH will collaborate with OBM to implement and resource the inspection schedule. If a new schedule is not agreed upon, CDPH will collaborate with OBM to “develop an implementation plan, including resources, to bring [CDPH] into compliance” with existing rules. CDPH also committed to analyzing costs and proposing updated fees, fines, and license rates related to food inspections, as appropriate. Finally, regarding OIG’s conclusion that CDPH’s relationship with the database vendor did not follow City policies, since OIG first surfaced the issue during the audit, CDPH has taken corrective action and will review all of its software to ensure compliance with City policies. CDPH will work with DPS and DOIT to address any issues identified by that review.
 City of Chicago, Office of Budget and Management, “2016 Budget Overview,” 100, accessed September 28, 2016, http://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/depts/obm/supp_info/2016Budget/2016BudgetOverviewCoC.pdf.