The Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) has been recognized as a Top 25 program in this year’s Innovations in American Government Awards competition by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University for itsFoodBorne Chicago program. 


Two years ago, CDPH and the SmartChicago Collaborative launched the FoodBorne Chicago web application with the goal of improving food safety in Chicago.


“The Department of Public Health and the Department of Innovation and Technology used social media and technology to create a tool that makes food consumption in Chicago safer,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel.  “It is innovative thinking like this that enhances and leverages available resources to make the most impact.” 


FoodBorne Chicago identifies public tweets from residents and visitors about food poisoning, then replies privately, providing assistance for the individual to file an online complaint through 311. An alert is then sent automatically to CDPH’s Food Protection Program, which investigates the complaint and updates any actions through Chicago’s 311 Service Tracker.


“FoodBorne Chicago leverages new technologies to make the health department cutting-edge in the 21stcentury,” said CDPH Commissioner Julie Morita, MD.  “As a result, our team has the ability to identify potential foodborne outbreaks sooner and prevent more people from becoming ill.”


Since its launch, FoodBorne Chicago classified more than 3,700 tweets related to food poisoning in Chicago, which led to 722 food poisoning reports submitted to CDPH through  Based on these reports, 526 inspections were conducted which led to critical or serious violations being found at 112 food establishments, violations which would not have been identified as quickly without the use of data from Twitter.


“These programs represent the forefront in government innovation, and a cross-section of issues of the twenty-first century, including renewable energy, community revitalization, and public-private partnerships,” said Stephen Goldsmith, director of the Innovations in Government program at the Ash Center. “They demonstrate that efforts to make government work better can stem not only from executive orders and statewide initiatives, but also small community programs and private citizens on social media.”


The Innovations in American Government Awards was created by the Ford Foundation in 1985 in response to widespread pessimism and distrust in government’s effectiveness. Since its inception, more than 500 government innovations across all jurisdiction levels have been recognized and have collectively received more than $22 million in grants to support dissemination efforts. Such models of good governance also inform research and academic study around key policy areas both at Harvard Kennedy School and academic institutions worldwide. Past winners have served as the basis of case studies taught in more than 450 Harvard courses and over 2,250 courses worldwide.


A full list of the Top 25 programs is available here.  




About the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation
The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation advances excellence in governance and strengthens democratic institutions worldwide. Through its research, education, international programs, and government innovations awards, the Center fosters creative and effective government problem solving and serves as a catalyst for addressing many of the most pressing needs of the world’s citizens. For more information, visit


For more information, contact:

Daniel Harsha

Associate Director for Communications, Ash Center