July 30, 2015

Mayor Emanuel Announces New Innovative System to Prioritize Food Safety Health Inspections

CDPH and DOIT now using open data to target critical health violations in restaurants

Mayor's Press Office    312.744.3334

Mayor Rahm Emanuel today announced the launch of the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) and Department of Innovation and Technology’s (DOIT) new innovative system designed to better ensure food safety for Chicago residents and visitors. The new system leverages public data to identify Chicago restaurants most likely to face health code challenges, allowing CDPH inspectors to prioritize inspections for those restaurants, helping them resolve any issues as quickly as possible and prevent foodborne illnesses before they ever begin.

“The use of open data will result in a more streamlined approach to overseeing food safety, targeting our resources at higher-risk establishments without compromising safety oversight at any food business across the city,” said Mayor Emanuel. “This open data model is allowing Chicago to execute restaurant inspections with 21st century efficiency and effectiveness, and enhancing our ability to provide the best services to our residents.”

The new system was created by the City as part of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge –an ideas competition to generate innovative ideas that solve major challenges and improve city life –and have the potential to spread to other cities. The City of Chicago was awarded $1 million in 2013 to develop a data-based approach to decision making.

“The Mayors Challenge is designed to encourage municipal innovation and spread the most promising ideas around the world," said James Anderson, the head of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Government Innovation program. "We are incredibly excited about Chicago's pioneering use of data analytics--demonstrating the incredible power of these tools to create efficiencies and improve results for citizens.”

“There are over 15,000 food establishments across the City of Chicago, and we need to work with all of them to guarantee the safety of our food supply,” said CDPH Commissioner Julie Morita, MD. “This new tool helps us better direct our resources to service those restaurants most in need.”

CDPH is committed to maintaining the safety of food bought, sold or prepared for public consumption in Chicago. CDPH’s sanitarians inspect retail food establishments such as restaurants, grocery stores, bakeries, convenience stores, day care facilities, schools and temporary food service events. Inspections focus on food handling practices, product temperatures, personal hygiene, facility maintenance and pest control.

The research was conducted in collaboration with Civic Consulting Alliance and researchers from Allstate Insurance to identify various factors that can result in a restaurant facing health code violations – including established risk categories, a range of 311 data, nearby sanitation complaints, previous inspection data and permitting data. These factors were then combined to create a predictive analytics model to show which establishments have the greatest likelihood of facing critical violations.

CDPH performed a simulation which allowed them to identify establishments with more violations using the predictive model than using risk categories alone. As a result of these findings, CDPH is now using the predictive model to prioritize inspections among the highest risk establishments.

“Researchers, cities and the public are able to freely access and download all the information needed to replicate the research,” said Brenna Berman, Commissioner and CIO of DOIT. “Releasing the data and research on GitHub allows for collaboration with other scientists and institutions to improve the city's forecasts and allows the technique to be adopted by other cities conducting food inspections.”

CDPH can use the data to prioritize inspecting the highest risk establishments first before inspecting the rest of the City’s restaurants, demonstrating the City’s commitment to use resources efficiently and effectively.

“This innovation allows us to give guidance to establishments, earlier, so they can make the necessary corrections and get back to serving their customers,” said Gerrin Cheek Butler, CDPH Director of Food Protection Services. “This also helps ensure possible problems do not become worse over time. An earlier inspection is beneficial to restaurant owners, their employees and their patrons.”

This is not the first time the City of Chicago has used analytics to tackle food safety through open source methods. In 2013, CDPH launched FoodBorne Chicago, a project to identify public tweets from residents and visitors about food poisoning and providing assistance for the individual to file an online complaint form sent to CDPH’s food protection program to follow up with a possible inspection. In the first year of the project, 150 additional inspections took place following reports submitted via Twitter. Discovering critical violations sooner rather than later reduces the risk of patrons becoming ill, which helps reduce medical expenses and lost time at work.