CHICAGO (WLS) -- You may be ordering a lot of delivery food this winter, but do you really know where that food is coming from?
Ghost kitchens have become a trend on delivery apps. This is when the restaurant name on the app is different than the restaurant which is making the food. The food is all made in the same kitchen, but you could be ordering pizza from a Mexican restaurant without knowing.
The I-Team found hundreds of ghost kitchens on apps. Now the city is asking restaurants to be more transparent.
Consumer Investigative reporter Jason Knowles ordered food from four of them, with ABC7 Data Journalist Maggie Green, who has been matching up ghost kitchens with their real restaurants by cross referencing addresses.
"And what we found is some places have 10, 15 virtual kitchens attached to them. Some places have one or two," Green said.
The I-Team made sure each place had a recent passing health report before ordering. But checking those records may be difficult for some consumers.
"The average person who's ordering from a restaurant on the app named Broke, High and Hungry, may not know it's really Cheesie's Pub," Green said.
The ABC7 data team uncovered more than 300 ghost kitchens in the Chicago area. The vast majority of those names are not found in the Chicago Public Health Department food inspection records, but the restaurants they are housed in are inspected.
Most of the delivered food the I-Team ordered comes in generic packaging, which does not identify the real restaurant, except for an order of hot chicken.
The app for Conviction Kitchen N Wings says it came from TGI Fridays so, in this case, we know where the food really came from. But we also ordered a pizza and a Greek salad that were made in a Mexican restaurant.
Gabino Castelan, the owner of Taqueria El Ranchito, showed the I-Team how delivery orders for its ghost kitchens come though on tablets. All of the food is made in the same kitchen. He has about 20 different ghost kitchen restaurants.
Castelan's restaurant has recent, good health inspection reports, but what if your food comes from a restaurant with health violations?
The Buffalo Wild Wings at 513 West Taylor Street, near the South Loop, houses the ghost restaurant Wild Burger. That restaurant had recent failing inspections with violations including "100 fruit flies throughout the establishment" and "no soap at a handwashing sink." In follow-up reports the restaurant fixed violations and passed inspection.
Knowles tried contacting the restaurant and corporate contacts at the restaurant but didn't hear back.
Captain Hooks on 13th Street, near the Illinois Medical District, also has ghost kitchen names. The manager, Said Said, showed the I-Team how violations were corrected and disputed some of them, including his dispute over a violation for rodent droppings. That manager said it was actually broken up rubber pellets that the city thought were rat droppings. The restaurant passed a follow-up inspection. The I-Team also asked him about his ghost kitchen names.
"I would tell anybody to look up Captain Hooks Fish and Chicken if you want to look up our health inspection," he said.
Said and other restaurant owners said consumers can search the addresses of ghost kitchens on food delivery apps and match them to the real restaurant name. But Mitzi Baum, CEO of the public health organization Stop Foodborne Illness, has concerns about consumers searching for inspections or reporting health problems.
"It's a big deal because we don't know the food safety practices that are occurring in those food establishment," she said.
The Chicago Department of Public Health said it can't track ghost kitchen names unless they're on record with the city.
The City's Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Department (BACP) said licensed restaurants need to be listing those 300-plus ghost names as DBAs or "doing business as." But the I-Team found the majority of restaurants don't do it.
"Consumers need to be aware of where they're purchasing from and whether they are a legitimate establishment because the consequences can be very severe," Baum said.
The ghost names are trendy and helping restaurants expand their business, but the city said if restaurants don't list their ghost names as "doing business as" in city records, they could face official warnings or even fines.
So for now, consumers may have to do extra research by matching up addresses online to report a problem or to know where their food is coming from.
Do I have a foodborne illness?
"Symptoms of foodborne illness are pretty classic," Mitzi Baum, CEO of Stop Foodborne Illness. "It's vomiting, it's fever and chills, body aches, diarrhea and if those symptoms last for more than 72 hours, or if you have bloody diarrhea you really need to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Typically food poisoning runs in the cycle of about 72 hours and you recover but in some cases, it becomes much more severe. So contact your medical practitioner for guidance if you're experiencing symptoms. And call the city and report your illness."
To report a restaurant or food establishment to the Chicago Department of Health: Call 311 or 312/744-5000 or file online at: https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/depts/cdph/provdrs/healthy_restaurants/svcs/restaurant_complaint.html
To look up inspections of restaurants and food establishments: Chicago Department of Health, visit https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/depts/cdph/provdrs/healthy_restaurants/svcs/restaurant_food_inspection.html.
Stop Foodborne Illness: stopfoodborneillness.org
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