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August 30, 2006

State Public Health Director warns about a scam targeting restaurants
Restaurants threatened with fines and license suspension

SPRINGFIELD - Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, state public health director, today issued an alert to restaurant owners to beware of a letter alerting them of new health codes and requiring they purchase hand washing posters.  The letter is from a company calling itself the Illinois Food Service Compliance Center and has been received by food service establishments in Illinois and other states.  The Illinois Food Service Compliance Center is not affiliated with any state or federal agency.

“We want to let restaurants know they do not have to purchase hand washing posters from this company – or any company.  Posters about hand washing are available for free from local health departments or from the Illinois Department of Public Health.  Restaurants can even use their own signs,” said Dr. Whitaker.  “The signs are not as important as the message that employees should wash their hands any time they step away from food preparation then return to resume handling food.”

The letter to food service establishments uses intimidation and threats of monetary fines, imprisonment, or both if they don't immediately post hand washing signs at all hand sinks.  The letter goes on to state that they can purchase the posters from the Illinois Food Service Compliance Center to prevent such regulatory actions.  The letter also mentions state and federal food codes requiring signage.

This information is not true.  The Model Food Code referenced in the fraudulent letter is a document to be used as a reference for states to adopt their own Food Code. Illinois has not changed its code and does not require hand washing signs to be posted at all hand sinks.  The Food Code does require employees wash their hands and the exposed portions of their arms with soap and warm water before starting work, during work and as often as it is necessary to keep them clean.  This means after smoking, eating, drinking, using the toilet and taking out the trash.

Like most scams, the information included in the letter has just enough truth to make it believable, such as the reminder to operators and employees to wash their hands regularly.  But, the threat of not posting hand washing posters near all sinks will result in a $2,500 fine and/or license suspension is not true.

“This type of predatory behavior is criminal.  We have alerted the Attorney General’s office and it has started an investigation.  IDPH is also working with the Illinois Restaurant Association to get the word out to food establishments across the state,” said Dr. Whitaker.

“This type of predatory action costs restaurants thousands of dollars each year, limiting economic expansion and hurting job creation,” said Colleen McShane, president of the Illinois Restaurant Association (IRA.)  “We strongly encourage all restaurants to immediately contact the IDPH, their local health department or the IRA to let us know if you think you’ve been a victim of this scam.  A copy of the fraudulent letter can be found on our web site, www.illinoisrestaurants.org.”

For more information, food establishments can contact their local health department or the Illinois Department of Public Health at (217) 782-4977 or www.idph.state.il.us.


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