Setting Expectations for Health Inspections
One of the inevitable parts of being a restaurant owner is getting paid a visit from the health inspector. Health inspections are paid for by public tax dollars to ensure restaurants are abiding by public health regulations. They can occur as frequently as 3-4 times a year if your establishment serves meat and fish. And if a customer complains of a foodborne illness after eating at your place, inspectors are required to come out. Additionally, restaurants that receive frequent low inspection scores should expect more routine visits from the health department.
Inspectors arrive unannounced; introduce themselves and show official identification; and ask that the manager, owner, or person in charge remain with them through the inspection to answer any questions. Your restaurant starts with a score of 100. As the inspector does his or her walk-through, points will be deducted. What can you expect during this visit, and how can you be sure your restaurant makes the grade? We’ll spell it out for you here.
First Stop: Food Prep
The first place the health inspector will want to see is the area in which your food is being prepped and handled. This will give them a good idea of how your establishment complies with regulations. For example, are your kitchen employees routinely washing their hands (and doing it the right way)? Does everyone have a hair net? Are gloves being used?
When it comes to food prep and storage, temperature is key. The inspector will be carrying a digital thermometer to ensure meats are being cooked to the proper temperature. They’ll also check your refrigerators and freezers for their temperatures. A fridge should be kept between 32 – 40 degrees F, while freezers need to be below 0 degrees F.
Your inspector is keeping an eye out for all these things right off the bat, so it pays to have a well-trained staff at all times. And don’t be surprised when your inspector quizzes you and your cooks about food safety and proper prep.
Next Up: Everywhere Else
After going through your prep areas that see regular activity throughout the day, the inspector will next want to see your storage areas, restrooms, dishwashers, tables, floors, chairs, trash areas, and anywhere else you can think of. In short: they’ll want to see the rest of your restaurant. They’ll be checking your smoke detectors to see they are working properly and will look at your cleaning products to verify their labeling and storage methods. Your dining room should also be clean, which includes your carpets, chairs, and walls. Even the dumpster out back must have some semblance of cleanliness, regardless of the obvious irony there. For a complete state-by-state list of what the food inspector is looking for, check out the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s website.
As your inspector is walking the restaurant with you, they may allow you to fix things on the spot and just mark this as a violation; in this case, points won’t be deducted from you score. At the end of the inspection, you’ll sit down together to go over the report and your resulting score. Results need to be taken seriously, and violations corrected as soon as possible. You can certainly be fined if upon re-inspection, your violations haven’t been addressed properly.
In closing, remember that while inspections are a necessary evil, they’re nothing to be scared of. With proper preparation of your restaurant and staff, and you’ll be good as gold during that inevitable visit!