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It can happen when you least expect it. You might have a full restaurant and a long list of delivery orders piling up, when all of a sudden the health inspector walks in.
As a restaurant owner, public health inspections help you have a full understanding of the safety and cleanliness of your restaurant. Acing your inspection can ensure your restaurant is set up for long-term success, save hundreds – or thousands – of dollars in potential fines and help maintain a positive reputation in the local community.
The good news is you can stay ahead of the game and be prepared for the moment a health inspector strolls into your establishment, clipboard in hand.
What health inspectors do
Health inspectors are professionals who ensure health codes, food safety practices, food hygiene practices, staff hygiene and proper preparation procedures are being followed to keep the public safe. According to StateFoodSafety, they pay attention to many different aspects of your restaurant and commercial kitchen operations. Here are some common factors inspectors look at during a restaurant health inspection:
- Food temperature control: Every item is cooked thoroughly
- Food preparation: Food is prepared to prevent contamination, washed completely and created from fresh material
- Food storage: Goods are stored in cool, dry places in the proper containers and labeled
- Employee hygiene: Staff members wash their hands thoroughly, wear gloves and cover hair and beards
- Facility set-up: Kitchen is purposefully laid out with all necessary equipment and safety items
- Cleaning and sanitation: All surfaces, equipment and utensils are frequently cleaned and disinfected
- Pest control: All areas that may attract pests are taken care of and any signs of bugs or rodents are taken care of immediately
- Legal: Documents, necessary permits and papers are all accounted for
Health inspections don’t have to be a headache. Knowing what to expect the next time the health department drops by will help you remain cool, calm and collected.
Review past food inspections to identify areas for improvement
Health inspection reports from previous years are excellent resources for reviewing the areas where your restaurant may need improvement. Consider handing out previous inspection reports or posting them in the break room so employees can focus on historically problematic areas while keeping up the good work in areas your restaurant has excelled.
Using your past food inspection, create a game plan to help your team prepare. Review your Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points plan, quiz your team on common health code violations, consult your local health department and conduct self-inspections — all great ways to ready your team. Pay attention to your previous inspection scores and areas that may have been flagged by health inspectors in the past, and ensure any critical violation is taken care of and no longer cause for concern.
Encourage good food safety practices
With food allergies and outbreaks of foodborne illnesses on the rise, health inspectors are paying extra attention to food handling. Make sure to regularly check in with staff and ensure they’re up to speed on food safety techniques, including food-handling practices related to food allergies, the spread of bacteria and more. Here are some good food safety practices, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration:
- Wash your food, hands, counters and cooking tools
- Keep raw foods separate from other foods to stop the spread of germs or a food-borne illness
- Cook all food at the proper temperature and use a thermometer to ensure all food is cooked
- Put food in the refrigerator right away
After each annual health inspection, there’s always the chance your staff might fall back into old habits and overlook minor violations. To keep that from happening, encourage continued good habits and remain as proactive as possible when it comes to cleanliness, organization and health standards.
Staying on top of food safety and kitchen practices now will pay off later, when you’re in the middle of your next inspection. An easy option might be to revisit your task checklists for opening and closing the restaurant. There might be a few small daily tasks you can add to better keep your restaurant up to code.
Schedule regular staff meetings
To avoid the surge of adrenalin that happens when a health inspector walks through the door, it’s important to keep staff on the same page.
In addition to holding regular meetings and keeping your restaurant up to code at all times, if you suspect a restaurant inspection is coming up, call a mandatory meeting and let your employees know that an inspection may be on the horizon. Have an agenda and action plan that covers what needs to be cleaned and maintained to pass the health inspection with flying colors.
Put yourself in the diners’ shoes
It’s easy to get bogged down on backend operations and kitchen cleanliness. But it’s important not to forget who you’re keeping things clean and organized for: your customers. Put yourself in customers’ shoes and walk through your restaurant. Is it clean? Is it clear that food and dietary allergies can be accommodated? Ultimately, it’s important to ask yourself: Would I eat here?
No food establishment owner looks forward to health inspections. But taking the time to adequately prepare means you can pass the inspection and quickly shift your focus back to serving your customers.