Cost Reduction

Preparing for a Health Inspection

Preparing for a health inspection is a constant concern in the restaurant industry. It’s a little like preparing for an earthquake—you don’t know when it’s coming, the strength of its convictions or exactly where it will strike. A health inspector can show up at any time, varies in their inspection depending on their mood and temperament, and can leave a path of destruction in their wake or barely a footprint. Unlike a natural disaster, they are predominantly there to protect those that dine at your establishment. They check to ensure that you are following good practices and safe guidelines when it comes to health and sanitation regulations. Its practices that you would incorporate whether there was an inspection or not…right? After all, the affects of a food illness can be devastating to both you and those affected. Consider the aftermath of Chipotle’s E. coli contamination in 2015 when its profit dropped by 44 percent.

Where and When to Start

Due to an inspector’s inclination to arrive unannounced, you must be prepared for an assessment at all times. Be sure to review local health codes for any special requirements.

  1. Start from the outside in. Are there any maintenance concerns? Any potential rodent issues such as uncovered trash, overgrown plants or plants growing against walls? Do all areas appear clean and well-maintained?

  2. Take a close look at the building. Is the building in good repair? If not, you will need to repair any leaks, peeling paint or loose tiles. While not in direct contact with food, they can fall onto surfaces that are or create environments conducive to rodents or bacteria. Damaged structures are hard to clean.

  3. Make sure you have a pest management protocol in place. Often this entails the use of a company that can regularly set and check traps as well as look for means of entry.

  4. Check all areas for cleanliness. The inspector will check to ensure cleanliness of all areas, not just those that come into direct food contact. This includes walls, floors and hard to reach areas. Have documentation on hand that shows your cleaning schedule. Make sure that all your equipment, utensils and chopping boards are clean as well.

  5. In regards to your equipment, be sure to keep records regarding its maintenance. Ensure that your dishwasher is running correctly and at the right temperature which is 130F degrees or hotter. The final sanitation should be at 160F degrees or include the use of a chemical sanitizer specific to this process.

  6. Keep temperature logs. This includes the temperature of your freezers and refrigerators. Safe food temperatures are 41F degrees or colder and 135F degrees or hotter. Check product temperature upon arrival and while in storage—you can be sure that the inspector will. You will also need good practices in place regarding defrosting which the inspector will confirm with your head chef.

  7. Do you have protocol in place to prevent cross-contamination? This includes using different cutting boards for fresh produce and meat products. Different proteins should also be kept separate such as chicken, pork and fish. An allergy-free zone consists of an area where no common allergens can be present such as dairy, wheat and nuts.

  8. Is your food dated? This includes leftovers that are marked with the date they were prepared and opened food packages that are marked with the date they were opened.

  9. The inspector will talk to and observe your staff. Do they appear clean and are they practicing good hygiene and food-handling safety guidelines? An inspector’s biggest concern is regular hand washing. Be sure that hand washing signs are placed in strategic locations. You will want to also confirm that every sink has both hot and cold running water, soap and paper towels, and that your staff is using gloves or utensils to touch ready-to-eat food. Food safety regulations vary by state, but many require food-handling employees to have training such as ServSafe certification. Food Protection Manager Certifications should be visibly posted.

The best way to ensure your managers and employees are up-to-date on the lastest food-safety techniques is by utilizing ServSafe, The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s food-safety training programs. The ServSafe Program  leads the way in providing comprehensive educational materials to the restaurant industry through face-to-face and online instruction. More than 5 million foodservice professionals have been certified through the ServSafe Food Protection Manager Certification Examination, which is accredited by the American National Standards Institute-Conference for Food Protection.

Yes, there is a lot to know to prepare for a health inspection. As you’ve probably noted, keeping records and documentation is an important part of the process. The good news is—you are, unless extreme conditions warrant immediate closure, given a chance to fix any issues that the inspector finds. They will then return for a second inspection. The better new is—after following these guidelines you can be assured that you have the correct procedures in place to ensure a safe environment for your guests and a good report from the health inspector.



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