In addition to talented employees and amazing dishes, the success of any restaurant is completely dependent on consistently passing health inspections and satisfying local health departments during bi-yearly restaurant visits.
While all restaurant managers and employees understand these inspections occur regularly, it doesn’t make preparing for them any less stressful. But food industry compliance health inspections don’t have to be something you dread. With a little preparation and some industry knowledge about safe food handling and food industry compliance regulations, your restaurant can be well prepared to meet the approval of health inspectors during their next unexpected visit to your establishment.
What to Expect During a Restaurant Inspection from the Health Inspector
Most states require that a restaurant be inspected twice each year with a visit from the local health department, about every six months. These visits typically occur without any warning or notice to restaurant owners and management; therefore, it is best to always be ready.
Once the health inspector arrives at the property, they will identify themselves and show some type of face identification. Unless they instruct otherwise, the inspector should be allowed to move around the property unaccompanied and without obstruction. Understand they do have the right to go into all areas of the building, even behind locked doors.
Usual inspections will go as follows:
- An initial walkthrough of the entire facility
- Full inspection and concentration on the kitchen and storage areas
- Full inspection and concentration on the dining room and bar areas
- Full inspection of the bathrooms and other accessible plumbing
- Full inspection of the exterior of the building and trash areas
The main focus of the inspection is to observe any contamination and temperature abuse for food items as product is received, stored, prepared and served; they are also looking for any signs of pest infestation in any areas both inside and outside the building.
When to Expect an Inspection
In addition to the two official visits each year from the health inspector, the restaurant may receive additional unannounced health inspections if the local health department thinks it’s prudent.
These additional inspections can be brought about when a complaint is received about the business. When local authorities have been alerted to a potential issue at a restaurant, it is their duty to investigate the situation and determine if there is truly a problem. This complaint prompts a visit from health inspectors who will investigate and report their findings.
Since violations against the regulations can result in hefty fines and even the temporary or permanent closing of the restaurant, it is important to ensure that restaurant managers are diligent about keeping up with cleanliness as well as national, state, and local code regulations and requirements.
How to Prepare for a Visit from the Health Department
Since restaurant managers are never sure when to expect the health inspector, it is a good idea to always be as prepared. To do this, ensure that the restaurant is always as clean as possible since the health department can walk in at any time – because they can and will surprise you when you are least expecting it.
Savvy restaurant owners and managers know that it is a good idea to perform internal inspections regularly on their own to identify potential issues, allowing you and your staff to be prepared when the actual inspection occurs. When internal inspections are done regularly, not only will you breeze through official inspections and avoid food safety violations, but you will also improve your customer’s experience by always offering a safe and pleasant dining experience. Internal inspections can also make your restaurant a great place to work because your employees will see that management is serious about providing a safe experience to the guest and a safe place to work for employees.
Here are some tips about what the health inspector focuses on, as well as some pointers on how to be better prepared for your inspection from the health department.
Tips for a Passing Score from the Health Department for Your Restaurant
Proper Food Storage
To avoid the contamination of food in the commercial kitchen, it is crucial to understand exactly how and where food should be stored. Proper food storage includes storing cooked food above raw food in the refrigerator, that all food is kept at least six inches off the floor, and that all food is contained or wrapped so that no spills occur. Once opened, it should be dated so that older products get used first.
Food must be cooked and stored at acceptable temperatures in your restaurant. Failure to do so can breed bacteria which can make customers ill. It is important to know that cold food should be stored with an internal temperature below 40°F/4°C; frozen food should be below 0°F/-18°C; and hot food should be above 140°F/60°C. Check all refrigerators and freezers to ensure proper working order and that thermometers are reporting accurate temperatures.
Prevent Food Contamination
It is important to remember that anything that touches the food in the restaurant could potentially be considered contaminants to your supply, so a clean kitchen with regular maintenance and sanitized food prep stations is crucial. Food safety violations are no joke, so it is important to ensure all food preparation areas are clean and sanitized to avoid a foodborne illness outbreak among staff and customers. Practice safe food handling procedures such as FDA approved dishwashing methods, deep cleaning of ice machines regularly, and ensuring food prep areas, dishes, and utensils are free from damage for best results. It is also important to minimize bare hand contact with cooked food items. It is essential that you provide tongs, food grade tissue or gloves to employees who handle cooked food.
Track Food Safety Practices
Keeping a record of your daily food safety practices is important to maintaining your restaurant. Document things such as all internal and health department inspections, safe food handling procedures, pest exterminating schedules, and equipment maintenance and repairs. This will help keep your restaurant inspection ready and organized.
Cleaning of Restaurant Space
When it comes to restaurant cleanliness, it does not stop at the kitchen counters and dining room tables. Everything in the restaurant must be properly cleaned and maintained daily. This means that all walls, floors, and ceilings are in proper working order and free from any liabilities. This also includes equipment in the restaurant such as HVAC units, dishwashers, ice machines, air filtration systems, and more that should be well-maintained and working properly.
All restrooms should be cleaned and sanitized every day and as needed. This includes facilities for the customers as well as the staff. Proper sanitation is crucial on all surfaces including doors, floors, ceilings, and walls. Also ensure there are plenty of supplies like toilet tissue, soap, paper towels, and a proper receptacle large enough to accommodate all garbage from the restroom.
All food handlers must follow personal hygiene protocols to help avoid contaminants in the restaurant’s food supply. Proper hygiene includes using a dedicated sink with hot and cold water for handwashing for at least 20 seconds, the use of disposable gloves and changing them between tasks, wearing clean uniforms and aprons, appropriate fingernail length, long hair being tied back off the face and proper wound coverage.
Pest Maintenance and Control
Restaurants will get a bad reputation fast if pests are sighted. Controlling pests can be a difficult task since the building is filled with food. Be sure to keep an eye out for evidence of a pest infestation with clues like nesting sites and droppings. Also make sure to secure any possible entry points to make it more difficult for unwanted pests to enter the building. It is best to hire a professional exterminator to deal with any pest issues and ensure the problem is dealt with properly.
Train Your Staff
Make it a priority to train all your staff on the importance and proper procedures for food safety and preparation. An informed staff will help you employ best practices and will help you be better prepared for the health department’s inspections. From sanitation and safety protocol to proper techniques to hold beverage ware to avoid contamination, the more training the better when it comes to food safety practices for your restaurant.
Remember, before you can impress local health inspectors, you need to remember they are looking for areas of contamination, temperature abuse or pest infestation both inside and out of the building. If they find even one violation, they will deep dive into every single corner, leaving nothing untouched.
NOTE: Since regulations are different in all areas, contact your local health department to inquire about their guidelines to ensure you are aware of the local rules for your restaurant to prepare for your bi-yearly inspections.
A stellar reputation in the restaurant business starts with an amazing menu and a high score on your yearly restaurant inspections from the health department. Although these bi-yearly inspections can be challenging, following these tips, and knowing what to expect can prepare you and your staff for a great result when the health inspector calls on your business.
If a Career in the Food Industry is Your Passion, JWU Has the Right Program for You
Looking for a career in the food industry? If you’re interested in earning your bachelor’s degree in Food Industry Compliance Management, complete the Request Info form, call 855-JWU-1881, or email [email protected].