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Food Protection Program (FAQ)

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The Environmental Health Division manages the City's Food Protection Program. The goal of the Food Protection Program is to ensure that food served to the public is safe. 

Licenses are required for permanent food establishments, food vendors at farmer's markets, food vendors at temporary events, mobile food vendors, food delivery trucks and food vending machines. Applications for these licenses are available here.

The intent of this web page is to

  • provide an overview of what the processes are in the Food Protection Program to open and operate a permanent food service establishment,
  • explain the inspection process, and
  • describe how we respond to complaints.

Who needs a food establishment license?

All Evanston facilities that include food preparation, service or sales to the public - even when those food operations are not the principal use of the facility - are licensed by the Environmental Health Division. They receive a food establishment license valid until December 31 of the current year.

Licensed facilities include restaurants, convenience stores, schools, churches, caterers, day care centers, gas stations, senior living residences and many, many more.

Food establishments need only the food establishment license, not the general business license. For more information about the general business license, click here.

How do I get a food establishment license?

First of all, be aware that you cannot operate without a valid license. A license is valid only if the person, corporation, partnership, etc. to whom the license was issued is still the legal owner of the business.

To avoid any delay in operating, especially in the purchase of an existing business, submit a food establishment license application well before the sale is complete, the property is purchased or a contractor or architect is engaged. The Environmental Health Division manages the licensing process and performs the final inspection when you are ready to open.

If you are considering purchasing an existing business or opening a new business, we invite you to schedule a consultation prior to submittal of the building permit and license application. This consultation can answer many of your questions and confirm that the proposed space accommodates the operations you want to operate. Whether you're taking over an existing business or building from the ground up, scheduling an appointment to talk about your plans is a great investment of your time. Call (847) 866-2947 or email

The Zoning Department approves the structure and the use of the structure for the district it is located in. Contact for information. Your application cannot move forward without Zoning's approval.

If remodeling or construction is needed before opening, a Building Permit is required.  Additionally, the Health & Human Services Department requires a Food Establishment Facility Review Packet, equipment specification sheets, a description of the scope of food-related operations and a plan review fee. We recommend you refer to the Food Facility Construction Manual to help complete the Plan Review form. The Building Division requires its own forms and fees, please go to Building Permit Process  or call (847) 448-4311 for complete information. Both Building and Health & Human Services must approve the plans before a building permit will be issued and construction can begin. 

The food establishment license is issued only after Building, Plumbing, Fire and Health & Human Services have signed off, payments are made, all ownership and contact information is confirmed with Health & Human Services, and, in some cases, a Certificate of Occupancy is issued.

How often are the establishments inspected?

Each establishment is categorized by risk. Risk is determined by the layout of the establishment, the menu, and the way that the establishment prepares food. Restaurants are categorized as Category 1, Category 2, and Category 3. 

Risk Category Descriptions

Category 1: These facilities have extensive menus and complex food processes that include preparing (washing, cutting), cooking, cooling, and reheating of food. These facilities are inspected at least three times a year.

Category 2: These facilities are not as complex as Category 1; typically, food is delivered frozen or refrigerated, then stored at the establishment. Food is made per order and served or delivered to the customer. Food is not cooled or reheated at these facilities. Category 2 facilities are inspected a minimum of once a year.

Category 3: These facilities are the least complex and do not handle or cook food. A typical Category 3 establishment is a gas station that has packaged food and sells milk. Category 3 facilities are inspected at least of once a year.

Are inspections scheduled or unannounced?

Routine inspections are unannounced. When the inspector finds violations needing a follow-up, the establishment is informed that a follow-up will be performed within a specified time (example within 10 days).

Where do the violations come from?

Starting in January, 2019 as mandated by the State of Illinois, the City of Evanston Health and Human Services will start using the current FDA Code for inspections and enforcement.

A Licensed Environmental Health Practitioners (L.E.H.P.) trained in all areas of Environmental Health assesses each establishment at the time of inspection. If the food handling practices of the restaurant greatly increase the risk of a food-borne illness, the restaurant is closed immediately.

What happens after a restaurant has been closed?

When a restaurant is closed, it must be inspected by the Health & Human Services Department before it can re-open. In some cases (i.e., fires, water shutoff, loss of electricity) other departments may need to inspect and approve as well.

May I ask for a restaurant or grocery store to be inspected? How?

Although every food establishment is inspected on a regular basis, patrons are encouraged to call or email City of Evanston's 311 (847-448-4311) with any questions about a food operation. If, during a visit to an establishment, a patron observes practices that are unsanitary, they can file a complaint with the Health & Human Services Department. All complaints are investigated within one working day of receiving the complaint. Those who file a complaint are kept anonymous.

What do I do if I get sick from eating at a restaurant or from food I bought at a store?

First and foremost, if your symptoms are severe or do not improve, go to the hospital.

Whenever a patron of an Evanston Food Establishment becomes ill after eating, it is important to report it to the Health & Human Services Department at (847) 448-4311 as soon as possible. One of our staff will ask you questions about your illness (symptoms, incubation and event information). You will also be asked about a 3-day food history as many of the food-borne illnesses occur 6-72 hours after the first symptoms appear.

During the interview, you will also be asked for some essential personal information that will help during the investigation. You will be asked age, occupation, and what medications you take currently. In addition, it is important that you give your name and phone number in case there are additional questions or more people are sick. You may be the only one in your party that became ill, but others who ate at the establishment while you were there may have become ill as well.

Within one working day of the reported illness, an Licensed Environmental Health Practitioners (L.E.H.P.) will perform an on-site inspection of the establishment. This inspection is somewhat different than our routine inspections.

When a food-borne illness is investigated, the inspector will follow the suspected foods (foods that are believed to have caused the illness) from delivery at the establishment to your plate.

More information can be obtained at the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention

Does the City of Evanston provide training for foodservice workers?

No, please go to our webpage for information Food Service Manager and Food Handler Certification.

In addition to these regularly schedule training sessions, inspectors will often educate employees and managers during their inspections. Our inspectors encourage foodservice managers to ask questions and request in-services on food protection topics.

How do I become a Licensed Environmental Health Practitioner?

Licensed Environmental Health Practitioners in the State of Illinois are required to hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university and have at least 30 hours in the basic sciences (biology, chemistry, physics, etc.).




After Hours Communication

For after hours communicable disease or bioterrorism emergencies, please call 847-448-4311 and stay on the line to be connected to someone immediately.

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