My thanks for Health Commissioner Choucair for meeting with me yesterday. It was the first time I met him personally, and my suspicions were confirmed. I met an energetic, positive, hard-working, solution-oriented leader. He had read our petition at Change.org, and everyone’s comments. THANK YOU to all of you that signed it, let’s keep it going!
I feel like more was accomplished in the short meeting yesterday than in two years with the Dept. of Business Affairs. Here’s a brief run-down of what we covered:
1. LSK’s punitive health inspection, and its remedies: LSK needs a corrected health inspection report. The only way to issue a corrected report is with another health inspection. I love that we need another inspection. Why? Because it means that no business, ever, can get a clean report without a Health Dept visit. The integrity of a posted health inspection must be protected to the greatest degree possible. We all must be able to trust it.
Even better: Commissioner is going beyond our remedy, to develop a remedy for all businesses that are found not liable in an Administrative Hearing. So he’s not just working to correct LSK’s issue, but working to correct it for everyone.
2. New Shared Kitchen User Badges: I’ve been challenging the City to provide sound reasons behind this change for a picture ID badge for food businesses using a shared kitchen. We currently post paper licenses just as you’d see in any bakery or restaurant. I still have not heard any sound reason for it.
Why am I against them? 1. They single out our smallest businesses and restrict their growth. 2. They do not provide any incremental benefit to public health. 3. They are much more expensive to produce. 4. Administratively they are not practical; for LLC’s and multi-owner businesses, a photo of one person doesn’t represent the business.
Jose Munoz, Deputy Commissioner, was part of our meeting and had been in contact with Dept. of Business Affairs and Law to discern the reasoning behind the picture badges. Interesting to note that DBA said badges were a Health Dept mandate, yet Health had to contact DBA to discover the rationale.
Reasoning? That in the event of food-borne illness, the City needs to be able to track the businesses and employees involved. But CDPH has successfully tracked food borne illnesses for years with paper licenses and business records. The picture badge does not provide any incremental benefit for food safety.
Second reason: Shared kitchen users have the flexibility to move from one kitchen to another, and must have a badge to demonstrate their qualifications. Again, this is not necessary when a caterer arrives in the Chicago Cultural Center or any Park District Field House. We don’t have picture ID badges on all the restaurant workers at Taste of Chicago.
My position remains: let’s stay with the same type of licenses we’ve used for years. It’s been working fine. With 23,000 food businesses and perhaps billions of meals eaten each year in Chicago, there were only 200-ish suspected cases of food borned illness in Chicago in 2010. We should not spend money we don’t have putting extra regulation on a part of our economy that’s working pretty well.
My meeting confirmed for me that the Health Dept is not the source of our trouble over the past two years– it’s been in the Department of Business Affairs and Licensing, run by Deputy Director Joy Adelizzi. Over and over, I see anti-small business decisions that are then off-loaded as another department’s responsibility. The badge is just the most recent example.
I am looking forward to a new and constructive relationship with the Health Department. We got off to a good start yesterday, and I am feeling optimistic that the walk will match the talk.
Please note: Food Protection is one of 39 departments in CDPH– as big a job as Commissioner Choucair has, his vision is bigger. Check out Chicago’s first comprehensive public health agenda here. LSK looks forward to being part of the solution.