If you are new to the restaurant business or have decided to open a venue, you are probably aware of most of the health codes that apply to the service industry. However, there are most likely some regulations that you weren't aware of and that you might have forgotten to abide by. Here is a simple guide to following health code regulations and what you should know before getting a visit from the inspector.
Typical Things Inspectors Check
Depending on your state or county, the health codes could differ slightly. Most states however, check for pretty basic things. You just need to take preemptive measures.
One of the first things that anyone who enters your kitchen will notice is the cleanliness (or vice versa). Bacteria can be found anywhere and kitchen equipment that isn't cleaned properly will be covered in it from top to bottom. Make sure that all equipment is cleaned properly with the right chemicals.
Food preparation and storage is another huge factor that comes into play. There are very specific guidelines about where food should be stored and what it should be stored with.
- All food must be covered or wrapped and stored at the appropriate temperatures, no exceptions.
- All produce must be washed thoroughly and must be kept away from raw poultry during preparation. Frozen foods must be thawed according to certain health standards. Heating and re-heating methods must follow set guidelines.
- There should be minimal, if any, hand contact with prepared food. All employees must wash their hands thoroughly before handling food, must have hair pulled back, and may not
eat or drink near restaurant food.
- All equipment should be cleaned and sanitized throughout a shift, not just before and after.
- All food and beverages must be labeled according to shelf life and may not be served after specified date.
- All ingredients and food must be purchased and delivered from approved sources. They may only be used if they arrive in good condition.
Good inspections are not just due to the cleanliness and presentation of your kitchen and staff. Your establishment will also be checked for rodents, other pests, foul odors, mold, overstuffed trash receptacles and the area around them, and the appearance of your restrooms.
What to Expect from an Inspector
Typically inspectors will arrive without warning, but they do generally come just once a year so you will have a pretty good idea of when they might stop in. When the inspector does show up, make sure to ask for their credentials and let them know that you want to follow them around the venue. Inspectors will notice your willingness to correct things if you follow them and take immediate notes about violations, and may allow you to make some changes on the spot. Once the inspection is done, ask the individual to inform your entire staff about his or her findings. This shows the inspector and your staff that the proper measures will be taken to make improvements if necessary. Make sure to sign the report, which only indicates that you received a copy, but you don't necessarily need to agree with the findings. Never
offer food or other things to an inspector as a way of bribery. Never
refuse an inspection because the health department is still capable of getting an inspection warrant.
Action to Take in Case of a Citation
No matter how careful you are there is always a possibly of missing some small detail that an inspector will surely notice. Their job is to notice those small details. You have to learn to have a very keen eye for things that are out of place or not properly taken care of. Most likely you can correct the small things that you are cited for while the inspector is still present. If the problem is taken care of immediately and appropriately, it is likely that the inspector will remove the citation. If for some reason you don't understand why you received a citation then ask. Inspectors are trained to answer any and all questions about restaurant health codes and they will be more than happy to help you understand. If you don't agree with the citation, do not say anything to the inspector because this can only stir up trouble. Sign the report and appeal the decision later.
FDA Model Food Code (National Restaurant Association)
How to Prepare for a Health Inspection (National Restaurant Association)