More repeat health code violators on South Side

The news: The City of Chicago launched a pilot program in March to streamline food inspection processes, requiring fewer routine assessments for low-risk food establishments.

Behind the news: Food establishments that fail five or more health inspections are more likely to be on the city’s South Side. Of the 35 food establishments that have failed five or more inspections since January 2010, 21 are located south of 21st Street.

A 2004 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on restaurant inspections in Tennessee found that walls in poor repair were some of the most common health code violations. All of the food providers on the South Side that failed five or more inspections were written up for structural issues such as broken walls and ceiling tiles, and 18 had rodent and pest problems.

Addressing such complaints can require costly renovations, said Sarah Klein, staff attorney for the Food Safety Program at the Center for Science in the Public Interest based in Washington, D.C.

“If the restaurants are financially poor performers [and] the problems are not behavioral, it’s going to be hard to change,” Klein said. “On the one hand, these things have to be fixed because they are a violation of health code. On the other hand, I don’t know how a restaurant owner is supposed to make those changes … if they don’t have the funds to do it.”

Businesses of any caliber can fail individual health inspections, from the smallest liquor store to a five-star restaurant, Klein said. But high-end establishments are less likely to fail repeated inspections.

According to Rich Schell, adjunct professor of Food Law and Regulation at Illinois Institute of Technology’s Institute for Food Safety and Health, inspectors rarely give longer than two weeks for restaurants to fix any violations. “Once you are subject to inspection, they’re going to keep coming back until you pass, or they shut you down,” Schell said.

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