Let's be honest, health inspections are stressful, however, you need to remember that health inspectors are not aiming to shut down your restaurant unless you give them a legitimate reason to.
This is a measure to protect the public's health. If you understand and obey the codes and regulations regarding proper food handling and cleanliness, then health inspections won't seem like such a daunting experience.
A wise man once said, If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail. This US founding father's face is now adorned on the hundred-dollar bill, and he's infamously noted as an established philosopher, inventor, and politician so, it'd be wise to take in his words of wisdom.
Planning is key.
Let's delve into the necessary measures that need to be taken in order to properly prep for a successful health inspection.
Common Health Code Violations
Health inspections usually occur between 1-4 times a year, so you should always be ready for them. You should also know about the food regulatory authorities that are in charge of creating and enforcing the safety standards.
When you understand these regulations, you can take various effective steps like HACCP (more on this later) to make sure that your restaurant is ready for the inspection.
The following are a few health code violations and mistakes that many establishments make. If you want to score high in your health inspection, make sure that you are not making these mistakes.
- Keeping food in unsafe temperatures - If the food is kept between 41 and 135 degrees Fahrenheit (also known as temperature danger zone) for too long then the food can easily be contaminated by bacteria. Therefore, you should always store food in safe temperatures.
- Inadequate food storage - If the food is stored inadequately, there is a risk of cross-contamination. It is a good practice to store your produce and raw meat separately in the refrigerator.
- Poor Hygiene - Some restaurants don't have proper hand-washing stations or disposable gloves and hairnets, which is also a very common health code violation.
- Poor Sanitation - It is also one of the most common health code violations. In order to avoid it, you should instruct your cleaning workers to always sanitize and clean all your equipment and spaces thoroughly so that your restaurant doesn't have any residue, dirt, and debris.
- Cross-contamination - This is a serious health code violation and leads to several food illnesses. You can avoid it by having a strict cleaning regimen, color-coded cutting boards, and disposable gloves.
Roles of Regulatory Agencies
In the United States, there are regulatory agencies like the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) that have the authority of creating and enforcing food codes that all restaurants must follow to a T.
Who sets food codes?
The FDA is in charge of monitoring domestic firms and companies, who handle, produce, package, and transport food.
The FDA doesn't directly deal with the food establishments but they set regulations and codes, which are then enforced by other local and state authorities. The food codes set by the FDA are used by health departments as a reference or sometimes legal requirements.
Who enforces codes and inspects restaurants?
This authority falls under the scope of state and local health departments. Every state has its own health department that monitors its food establishments.
Depending on the size of the state, it can have several thousand restaurants. This is why many states create local or municipal health departments to cover everything. These departments have the responsibility to enforce all food codes and regulations.
Preparing for a Health Inspection
Once you know who sets the regulations and codes, you can now prepare for the actual health inspection. One useful tool that can help you in preparing for the health inspection is by adhering to the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (also known as the HACCP).
The HAACP plan identifies and marks the points in your cooking procedures where contamination risk is significant. Once these hazards are identified, you can take appropriate measures to remove the possibility of contamination.
In addition, the following are some other measures you can take to prepare well for formal health inspection.
- Always monitor closely for the important safety issues, including personal hygiene, internal temperatures, cross-contamination, etc.
- Get in contact with the local departments to learn what forms are being utilized and which regulations are being followed, so that you can better prepare for what's to come.
- You should also conduct your own random self-inspections at unannounced times. This will prepare your employees for the formal inspection because it occurs mostly unannounced and randomly.
- After you are through with the self-inspections, sit down with your employees and review the results of the inspection. This will be a nice opportunity for all involved to discuss the appropriate actions needed in case of any violations.
- Ask your employees all the relevant safety questions about their tasks in the restaurant to make sure that they are prepared for any questions that a health inspector might ask them. For instance, you can ask them what color food containers they should store seafood, vegetables, and poultry in order to avoid cross-contamination.
- You should always keep monitoring the food preparation in your restaurant even after you are done with self-inspection. Also, update your managers on all the latest safety developments so that they can comply with the regulations even when you are not around.