Dec 28, 2016 | EcoSure Food Safety Monitor

By Miriam Eisenberg, MS, RD, CP-FS

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Being a resident in the Chicago area, I took notice of the headlines earlier in December about the fact that Chicago restaurants are not being inspected as frequently as required by state law. This was among the findings of a report from the Illinois Inspector General (IG). More than half of Chicago’s restaurants are being inspected less than twice a year, the minimum required by state law.

It means the city may no longer be eligible for $2.5 million in state grants, the audit finds. And meeting the state requirement of twice-a-year inspections for Chicago establishments would require hiring 56 new food safety inspectors. Chicago Mayor Emanuel said the state does not give the city enough money to meet the requirements.

Chicago’s Department of Health was credited by the IG for responding to complaints within five days if foodborne illness might be involved and within 21 days for more general complaints. The department said it may use the IG report to seek higher inspection fees to cover more of the city’s costs.

This report unfortunately did not surprise me, not just for Chicago specifically, but from what I have heard in recent years from customers and other food safety professionals around the country. With so many different jurisdictions with different standards and requirements, not all restaurants have the same inspection requirements. Some jurisdictions only require inspections when there is a complaint. Some require one yearly inspection and some more frequency. As with the City of Chicago, current economics leave some health departments short-staffed so the inspections are prioritized where they are most needed.

This brings me to the question “How is your restaurant being protected?” Some restaurants may be run to be ready for an inspection just in case, but for best food safety practices, I’d recommend that every day be run as if the health department will be there any minute. What are some of the best practices to be constantly ready?

  • Understand your local health department requirements. Obtain a copy of your local health inspection to review your compliance. If you can’t obtain the local form, look up Form 3A from the Federal Food Code. 
  • Meet Manager Certification requirements. Jurisdictions vary in the number of certified managers required. Statistics show that the presence of a certified manager decreases the number of violations on a health inspection indicating that a knowledgeable manager can help promote more safe food handling. 
  • Meet Food Handler requirements for all associates. While this is only a requirement in a portion of the country, using a Food Handler program can help ensure consistent training whether in a single location or across a chain. 
  • Use checklists as a tool to measure consistent practices—include final cooking temperatures, hot and cold holding, reheating, cooling, and delivery documentation. Use an organized labeling system as part of your documentation. Have a corrective action plan for any items not within specifications. These can be part of your mini-HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) Plan.

While these are only a few key actions, these are some aspects to help keep you ready for handling safe food on a regular basis.