Video: Chicago inspectors trash food at new kitchen

February 8, 2010

Maybe it's because I hadn't eaten lunch yet. But I could hardly believe my eyes this afternoon as I videotaped Chicago health inspectors throwing out about 200 servings of fine-looking beef ravioli at a state-of-the-art kitchen in West Town. About a minute and a half in to the tape, check out how fast they dumped the fresh salad that was supposed to go with the ravioli. Since Thursday, the inspectors have trashed hundreds of pounds of food at Kitchen Chicago, a facility shared by 11 small businesses, including caterers, candymakers and artisan bakers. Frances Guichard, food protection director at the Chicago Department of Public Health, says the city found no unsanitary conditions. Guichard says many of the businesses, rather, hadn't labeled their storage areas and lacked receipts for some of the ingredients. None of the tenants, she adds, had received a city license to prepare food for the public. The kitchen's owner, Alexis Leverenz, does have a license and says the city told her the tenants could operate under it. Some of her renters, for their part, insist the city told them it couldn't issue multiple licenses to a single address. Now the tenants have lost food worth thousands of dollars. They're worried about losing clients too. And the city has slapped Leverenz with three citations that could lead to fines and tougher enforcement. "It's ridiculous," Leverenz told me as the inspectors filled her garbage bins with food. "What purpose does this serve?" Plenty, responds Guichard, who calls the paperwork vital for keeping tabs on the food's transport, preparation and storage. "If someone gets sick, you can track it back to the source," she says. At least one of Chicago's neighbors cuts through some of the red tape. Carl Caneva, who manages environmental health for Evanston, says that city allows its sole shared kitchen, Now We're Cookin', to operate under a single license. Find an extended audio version of this story at chicagopublicradio.org.