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Illness, Filth Keep City Inspectors Busy

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Illness, Filth Keep City Inspectors Busy

Photo by Jolyn Hecht

Hundreds of people believe they were poisioned by food from the Taste of Chicago. Nationally, there’s a the botulism outbreak connected with canned food. In Chicago this week, officials shut down the lower food court at Macy’s on State Street because of fruit flies and other health code violations. Chicago Public Radio’s Mike Rhee reports on food gone bad, and how local health officials try to stop it.

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After 31 years in business, Pars Cove owner Mike Bambouyani says its customers have stayed healthy. That reputation changed several weeks ago, after public health officials linked numerous cases of salmonella poisoning to the North Side Persian restaurant. Bambouyani says “it hurts,” all the media attention. He says it’s affected business. But Bambouyani says so far the health department has yet to find a cause.

BAMBOUYANI: We’ve given them samples of the product that actually we used for the Taste. And as of thus far we haven’t heard any results so we’re just sitting tight and waiting.

A spokesperson from the city’s Department of Public Health says the outbreak had nothing to do with the food handlers. That leaves the possibility an ingredient came into the restaurant contaminated.

Matt Smith with Chicago’s Department of Streets and Sanitation says safe conditions at companies that supply food are especially important because of the broad base of consumers they could affect. A Streets and San crew this week shut down a local Asian food supplier’s warehouse for a number of violations. Smith says the list at MJ Trading Corporation on the city’s South Side began with doors and windows that were left wide open.

SMITH: We found that there were birds nesting over the overhead doors, flying insects and a couple of dead mice rounded it off.

Smith says most of the time health officials get leads from customers who report complaints. That’s how public health officials eventually shut down Macy’s lower level food court this week. Around lunch time today, the food court was taped off while dozens of workers cleaned and scrubbed chairs, tables and kitchens.

A spokesperson from the city says the food court has now been cleared to re-open. Smith says when a big name establishment like Macy’s is closed, it reacts quickly.

SMITH: They have such a good reputation and such a good corporate structure that they’ll bring in an army of cleaning people to get the job done.

A Macy’s spokesperson says it’s fully cooperated with health department officials and has effectively addressed the problem.

According to a Public Health department spokesperson, big name restaurants have as good a chance as any other restaurant to be shut down. The department’s closed more than 160 restaurants in Chicago this year as a result of health code violations. The most common reasons: inadequate plumbing and pests, like rodents and insects. There is a bright side. When restaurants do get shut down, they usually clean up their act well beyond the city’s standards. Like Bambouyani of Pars Cove says, his restaurant is probably one of the cleanest in Chicago right now.

I’m Mike Rhee, Chicago Public Radio.

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