OIG Finds Only 43.9% of Restaurants and Similar Establishments Received All Required Routine Food Inspections

A City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (OIG) audit, released today, found that the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) did not meet the routine inspection frequency requirements required by law. Specifically, CDPH inspected,

  • only 3,566, or 43.9%, of high-risk establishments, such as restaurants, the required minimum of two times in 2015;
  • only 2,478, or 80.1%, of medium-risk establishments, such as grocery stores, the required minimum of one time in 2015; and
  • only 1,078, or 24.8%, of low-risk establishments, such as bars, the required minimum of one time in 2014 or 2015.

These required minimums are based on recommendations published by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

CDPH could not state when, if ever, it last met regulatory standards. Such failure may be grounds for withholding millions of dollars from the State’s Local Health Protection Grant (LHPG) funds. Historically, instead of withholding funds, every year the State has allowed Chicago to propose and meet annual “corrective action plans” that require significantly fewer inspections than State standards. In 2015, the City received $2.5 million in LHPG funds from Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), and allocated $969,211 of those funds to food protection. While IDPH has accommodated CDPH’s long-term, continual non-compliance with inspection standards set forth under the law, there is no guarantee that IDPH will continue to grant exemptions, thus with each new year the City is at risk of losing LHPG funding.

Although CDPH did not conduct enough routine inspections, OIG found that when violations were identified the Department did conduct timely reinspections of those establishments, and also responded in a timely manner to public complaints received through the City’s 311 system.

In response to OIG’s findings, CDPH stated it would try to work with IDPH to design and implement a revised food inspection regime that will optimally protect public health and make efficient use of the public’s tax dollars. If the City is not successful in developing a permanent revised food inspection schedule, CDPH stated it would work to secure needed resources from the City. OIG estimated that CDPH would need to hire at least 56 additional sanitarians to meet the current legal requirements.

Should the City need additional sanitarians, OIG’s audit recommended that the City consider tapping revenue generated by food inspections, money which is currently directed to the Corporate Fund for general use. Food inspection fines and fees currently bear little or no relationship to the actual cost of food inspections. For example, CDPH estimates that it costs $103.84 to conduct a reinspection—more than double the $50 reinspection fee.

“This audit revealed a curious and troubling landscape respecting an important government function critical to the protection of public health and safety,” said Inspector General Joe Ferguson. “The City failed to provide CDPH with the resources it needs to meet the standards for food inspections, standards that the City itself adopted into its regulations. The result is long-term, continual non-compliance. The State has in turn effectively acquiesced in this non-compliance every year. By presenting one rule on the books, but allowing a lower standard in practice, City and State regulators are knowingly signaling to the public that Chicago’s food establishments are subject to a far more rigorous inspection regime than is the case, undermining public trust and confidence. Fortunately there is a clear solution. The City, working in collaboration with IDPH, can align regulatory requirements and operational resources at levels that adequately assure public health and safety. If the City and State feel that the current inspection regime can be safely adjusted, those arguments should be voiced and the new standards codified. The City should also commit to fully funding any current or future food inspection mandates. CDPH’s ultimate success will require the full support and assistance of the Administration.”

The full report, and CDPH’s response to the findings, can be found online.

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