Though all health departments operate under their own jurisdiction, restaurants often undergo yearly or even twice yearly inspections. These are often unannounced and, if a restaurant is unprepared, can lead to closures that are both costly in terms of lost revenue during closure as well as future revenue if word gets out to potential and current customers. While closures are fairly uncommon, violations are not.
How Scoring Works
With cities using different grading systems, consumer confusion is a given. Some cities operate on a 0 to 100 system with 100 being the best while others use 0 as a perfect score. Still others use letter grades or pass/fail systems. Penalties are attached to varying violations.
With the advent of social media and online review sites such as Yelp posting restaurant’s health inspection scores in various cities, the world has become small indeed. As many restaurateurs know, a negative posting in either of these platforms can have long-term effects. You can’t please everyone and most customers will see through an unfair and disgruntled guest when surrounded by customer’s reviews touting your incredible food and ambiance. A health inspection score, however, is not based on the whims of sometimes irritable clients. It carries power beyond the spoken word.
As a restaurateur, you undoubtedly want your customers to have the best experience possible and do your best to limit the chance of a foodborne illness. So how do restaurants end up on the closed list? After years in business, some lose passion and perspective, others just never implemented the needed policies and procedures that guarantee compliance. Health inspectors look for this compliance in nearly 48 health and safety issues.
Inspectors commonly check for the following:
- Proper storage and labeling of food items.
- Equipment cleanliness and in good working order and logs regarding repair. High temperature dishwasher operating effectively.
- Correct refrigerator and freezer temperatures along with working thermometers.
- Temperature of hot and cold foods and a proper method in place for defrosting.
- Cleanliness of floors, walls and ceilings including no openings in which infestation could occur. Cleanliness in all other areas of the restaurant.
- Plumbing items including enough sinks for washing, rinsing and sanitizing and that they all have grease traps and drain stoppers. At least one three-compartment sink and one sink denoted for mop and slop.
- Proper storage of chemicals and cleaning supplies.
- Pest and waste control logs.
- Employee health and hygiene practices including hand washing procedures, policy if sick employee comes to work, hair covered, clean clothing and aprons.
- Cross-contamination sources have been addressed.
The key to passing your health inspection with a perfect, or at least passable, score is to implement written policies and procedures and make managers responsible for following through on daily inspections. These BOH and FOH inspections become easy to run through once a system is in place. This should also include a daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly cleaning schedule.
While most employees are required to obtain certification through a food handlers card or ServSafe, lessons learned fall by the wayside when standards are not maintained or issues not addressed. Consider requiring all managers obtain a food training manager certification. It is their responsibility to ensure that staff is following the correct sanitary and safe-food procedures.
Self-inspection forms are available on most health department’s websites. For instance, the Chicago Department of Public Health offers a Guide to your Initial Retail Food Inspection as well as a list of what inspectors look for. Free consultations by the health department are often provided for new businesses and are highly recommended.
During a Health Inspection
If possible, take corrective action on the spot. If not possible and issues were found, immediately set up a follow-up inspection at the end of the current one. Make sure you have a binder dedicated to health inspections and safety standards. This will include management and employee food safety certifications, permits and licenses, logs for pest and waste control as well as a HACCP plan.
Common reasons for failed inspections include equipment not working properly or to the right temperatures, unsealed gaps in walls and joints, lack of adequate hand washing facilities, inadequate refrigeration, improper reheating procedures, and pests onsite or no pest control logs available. While many restaurants are cited for various issues, rarely are they closed down. Look to this part of the restaurant industry as a learning process. A health inspector is simply doing his job and helping you provide the safest food to your thankful customers.