Officials Destroy Artisan Food & Small Farm Fruit, CDH Responds

Chicago's Flora Lazar operates her artisan craft food business out of a shared kitchen on the city's West Side. After obtaining permits, the Department of Health paid her a visit--standard operating procedure for a new business. What followed, is anything but standard.

During their inspection, Chicago Department of Health determined Lazar had obtained the wrong permits. In a maneuver that sparked outrage throughout the online community, the Department of Health proceeded to throw bleach on thousands of dollars worth of artisan food and local fruit.

"This puts me out of business for six months," Lazar said after losing the irreplaceable fruit. "I have done everything by the rules. Instead of making the food at home, which I could easily do, I sought out and rented space in a licensed kitchen.....I paid my $600 and invited the inspectors here today."

Covering a story for the Chicago Tribune, reporter Monica Eng was on the scene when the inspectors arrived, "Inspectors cited no health problems with any of the food. They even encouraged Lazar's son to eat the confiscated granola bars from Sunday Dinner Club. They only said the food was prepared by chefs who didn't have the proper business licenses to prepare and sell it."

The food itself was deemed safe for consumption, but due to a snag in the permitting, it was not available for sale. Fair enough.

The city's next step--destroying thousands of dollars in froze fruit purees and artisan food--is baffling.

Read the Chicago Tribune's story here.

Got feedback for the Chicago Department of Health? Weigh in here.



I contacted the Chicago Department of Health, hoping to get their take on the situation. Today, I received the following response:

The City of Chicago licensing requirements for a shared kitchen require every business to be licensed separately. This is because individual businesses are required to be registered and licensed by their separate legal entities and separate business activities.

In terms of health and safety, it also ensures that each individual business meets the sanitation certification required to operate a food business. And that’s important when you are preparing and serving food to the public. (As you may know, every year in the U.S. food borne illness causes about 300,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths.) We take food safety seriously, and we require restaurants, caterers and others to do the same.

On Thursday, Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) inspectors visited Kitchen Chicago because two of the food establishments renting space there (Flora Confections and Sunday Dinner Chicago) had requested the inspection required to obtain a City business license.

When they arrived, Health inspectors found that both Flora Confections and Sunday Dinner Chicago were already operating---without the required City license, without having passed a Health inspection, and in violation of a “cease and desist” order that had been issued on January 21 by the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection.

Health inspectors discovered several unsafe practices at the facility, including:

** Food from an unknown source
** Food that had already been prepared somewhere else under unknown conditions and which was stored in unmarked plastic bags

Because the food in question did not meet health and safety standards---the same standards that all food establishments in the city must meet---Health Department inspectors ordered and supervised the discarding of about 120 pounds of food from the two businesses; and they ordered an embargo on the walk-in cooler (no food in, no food out), pending further inspection.

The food in question was not discarded simply because of a licensure issue---it was discarded because Health inspectors viewed it as suspect, and potentially unsafe for consumption.

The food in question was also not allowed to be removed off the premises and served elsewhere in a private or public setting, as it had already been viewed as suspect, and potentially unsafe for either private or public consumption. Allowing potentially unsafe food to simply be served elsewhere, public or private, would be a breach of our duty to protect Chicagoans from food borne illness.

The Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection had an open line of communication with the business owner of Kitchen Chicago prior to this incident and continues to have an open line of communication with Kitchen Chicago to assist them and associated businesses operate in accordance with the law. They are working to see that Kitchen Chicago and those businesses that lease space from Kitchen Chicago get licensed as quickly as possible; we will continue to assist them until all of their licensing matters have been resolved.

We at the Chicago Department of Public Health do all we can to make Chicago a place where restaurants, caterers and other food-related businesses can thrive and prosper. But at the same time, we absolutely insist that they operate legally and adhere to all food safety and health laws and regulations, which are designed to prevent food borne illness and protect the public health.

Thank you again for contacting us to share your concerns.

--Tim Hadac
Director of Public Information
Chicago Department of Public Health