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Dried Egg on a Fork Is the Least of Your Problems

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Nov 15, 2006 2:43PM

2006_11_inspector.jpgAlthough Chicagoist would never advocate you go all Niles Crane on us, you might want to bring a clean handkerchief with you the next time you dine out, to check for dust and polish the cutlery. Fran Spielman writes in the Sun-Times today that Chicago has only 46 Health Department sanitarians and 12 supervisors to keep 15,500 restaurants in compliance with health code regulations, prompting aldermen to question just how efficiently those inspectors are doing their job.

We'll save you from doing the math. That's one inspector for every 267 restaurants. If you subtract the supervisors, that number spikes to one inspector for every 337 restaurants.

The numbers became public during a Health Committee hearing yesterday called to review the city's efforts to fight food-borne illness, after last month's recall of E. coli-infected spinach across the country. Naturally, City Council members have different opinions on the matter. Health Committee chairman Ed Smith (28th) questioned whether the inspectors could do their job efficiently and aggressively, given the disparity between inspectors and restaurants. Meanwhile, 44th Ward Alderman Tom "Sticky Buns" Tunney, who also owns Ann Sather, predicatbly said that the inspectors do a great job:

Any time any individual customer complains, we get a Health Department inspection. Oftentimes, it ends up being not warranted. We're inspected twice a year and, above and beyond that, based on a consumer complaint. That's serious enough regulation as far as I'm concerned. I find the consumer is as good of an inspector as anybody. At least in my community, they're very educated and very on top of it.

Ah, the passivity of political speak.

According to the article, the Health Department inspects around 6,000 restaurants with a "high-risk" rating for food-borne illness annually. In 2006, there have been 10 reported cases of food-borne illness in Chicago. We wouldn't want to be in the shoes of the Health Department. Given the sheer numbers, theirs is certainly a thankless task. And we thank them for at least keeping our favorite deli in compliance. Spielman also notes that 24 years ago, when Chicago didn't have nearly as many restaurants, that there were 150 sanitarians.

Holy Hired Truck, Batman! Where could the money have gone for more sanitarians?