Inspecting Eateries DuPage County Health Officials Want to Publicize Restaurants' Food Safety Scores
Kutz, Karen, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Today - and every day - in DuPage County, more than half the residents will patronize one of the area's 3,200 restaurants or food services.
Illinois Restaurant Association statistics show that number growing each year, with area residents spending a record $1.1 billion in 1999.
Yet, DuPage County residents have little way of knowing if the food is safe.
Granted, an army of sanitation officials work diligently behind the scenes, routinely checking kitchens, coolers and dishwashers to make certain food is prepared properly in safe conditions.
But they don't report or post inspection scores.
The information is supposed to be available upon request, but it can take weeks because the department's computer database doesn't contain the exact reasons restaurants were closed or what codes were violated.
Recently, health officials launched an initiative to change that. Karen Holmes, director of environmental health for the DuPage County Health Department, formed a 12-member task force made up of consumers, restaurant industry representatives, chefs from culinary institutes and county employees to devise a fair reporting system.
"We have a very good inspection system in place," she said. "Now we are looking at how we can communicate information to the public in a consumer-usable way."
Since so many more people eat out today than five years ago, Holmes said, "consumers are interested in receiving information about the places they dine in."
The task force met for the first time last month, she said, to brainstorm about what kind of information should be reported.
"There was a great deal of sentiment that the information should also emphasize the good, to recognize outstanding facilities," she said.
Task force members also decided a top priority should be given to reporting on restaurants, schools, day-care centers and hotel food operations.
Stan Szczap, the county's food protection director, said such places are inspected regularly each year.
About 95 percent of the time, the department's inspectors arrive unannounced between one and five times per year, depending on the establishment's "risk" factor.
Last year, the department issued 27 immediate suspensions of permits due to health violations such as pest and rodent problems or for emergencies such as power outages that kept refrigerators off too long. …