How to Pass a Restaurant Health Inspection

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How to Pass a Restaurant Health Inspection

by on January 08, 2018
How to Pass a Restaurant Health Inspection

A surprise restaurant health inspection, or audit, can create panic among restaurant managers and staff. Whether it’s during a busy lunchtime or when your restaurant is packed with diners because of a holiday, a health inspector suddenly shows up and announces that it’s time for a health inspection. Many inspectors try to avoid doing inspections during these extra-busy times, but in their queue of restaurants to visit, a few are going to experience a surprise health inspection at some point during what seems like the most inconvenient time.

But even if you’re caught off guard, you can ace the restaurant health inspection—that’s right, I said ace! And it’s easier than you might think. It’s all in preparation and planning. Think about this famous quote from Benjamin Franklin: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” There’s a lot of wisdom here. If you want to create the opportunity to pass a health inspection, your restaurant should have policies and procedures in place beforehand.

Employee Training Prior to a Restaurant Health Inspection

Train your employees on the important procedures of washing hands, taking temperatures and using gloves. You want their knowledge and action of these procedures to be second-nature while carrying out their job functions, so when a health inspector shows up, it doesn’t provoke a fire drill of activity and confusion. Here are the five activities that are the most important for employees to do while at work. They’re important because they directly relate to the most common critical violations that inspectors find during an audit. In terms of inspection scores, these violations will be the most damaging.

  1. Track food temperatures. It’s a good idea for the kitchen to keep a daily temperature log. Having a temperature log will demonstrate to an inspector that food safety is important in your restaurant. Check food temperatures two times a day: in the morning and between the lunch and dinner shifts. Any food not at the right temperature should be a priority. If it’s a little over the target temperature by a couple of degrees, then add some ice to cool it down. However, if the temperature has already reached nearly 50 degrees Fahrenheit, throw it away. If an inspector finds food out of temperature, especially on the warmer side, then she may schedule a follow-up inspection to check temperatures again. These follow-up inspections typically have fees associated with them, which the restaurant will have to pay.
  2. Wash hands. Managers should constantly be watching to make sure employees are washing their hands at the appropriate times. When a health inspector is present, if you notice that an employee forgot to wash his hands, then you should remind the employee to do so. It’s better that you say something about it rather than risking the inspector saying something first. According to the FDA, employees should wash their hands…
    • When entering a food preparation area
    • Before putting on clean, single-use gloves for working with food and between glove changes
    • Before engaging in food preparation
    • Before handling clean equipment and serving utensils
    • When changing tasks and switching between handling raw foods and working with ready-to-eat foods
    • After handling soiled dishes, equipment or utensils
    • After touching bare human body parts; for example, parts other than clean hands and clean, exposed portions of arms
    • After using the toilet
    • After coughing, sneezing, blowing the nose, using tobacco, eating or drinking
    • After caring for or handling service animals or aquatic animals such as molluscan shellfish or crustaceans in display tanks
  1. Use disposable gloves while handling food. Kitchen employees need to wear gloves only if they’re handling food with their hands rather than utensils. The key to successful glove use is for kitchen employees to wash their hands before putting on gloves. It’s very important to train your staff on proper glove use, and to change gloves between handling raw products and ready-to-eat foods. An inspector will definitely observe the kitchen staff to ensure that this is a standard practice.
  2. Follow sanitation guidelines. Have your restaurant staff regularly check throughout the day that sanitizer is present in towel containers used to wipe down dining room tables and counters. The person in charge of running the warewash machine should make sure the machine is correctly sanitizing. During an inspection, if an inspector discovers problems with sanitation, take action to fix this as soon as possible.
  3. Place employee food and drinks in the proper designated area. Have a designated location away from food prep areas for employee food and drinks. Train your employees to discard employee food and drinks when an inspector arrives. The manager on duty can also walk through the kitchen to look for improperly stored employee food and drinks.

Get Ahead by Conducting Your Own Internal Audits

Doing internal audits does three things: 1) provides training to staff, 2) prepares the restaurant for a health inspection from the local health department, and 3) ensures the restaurant is ready to serve safe food to guests and provide the best possible dining experience.

On a daily basis, a manager should walk through the restaurant to look for potential critical violations, just as a health inspector would. Remember the most common critical violations and make changes where necessary to correct any problems. Review the line in the kitchen and take food temperatures. Ensure employees are washing hands and using gloves properly. Make sure the warewasher is properly sanitizing dishes. Also, check that employee food and drinks are properly stored.

Conducting your own internal audits will keep the regulations fresh in your mind and will provide an opportunity for your staff to perform well during a real health inspection. To help your audits be more thorough, use this health inspection checklist. It includes items that are typically checked during a health inspection, such as temperatures, service line, walk-in, prep areas, warewash area, chemicals and general operations.

Be Proactive during a Restaurant Health Inspection

Train your employees to know that when a health inspector arrives, they should alert the manager on duty right away. It’s vital that the manager walks through the inspection with the inspector so that any violations found can be corrected immediately, if possible. The reason this is so important is that if the manager can correct the problem that led to the violation, then the inspector will note on the official report that it was corrected, and the overall inspection score may be improved.

While the restaurant health inspection is underway, the manager should let all employees know that a health inspector is conducting an inspection. Remind them that they should be following proper procedures so the restaurant will perform well on the inspection. The manager should also look around to quickly spot any problem areas for possible critical violations, and ask employees to help fix them before an inspector sees them.

Inspectors like to see managers actively communicating with employees during an inspection, providing direction and information on local food safety and FDA Food Code regulations. This demonstrates that the manager is knowledgeable about the regulations and is coaching employees on the right procedures.

Wrapping Up: You Can Ace the Inspection!

Passing a restaurant health inspection should be a chief concern for all employees. If a restaurant consistently receives poor health inspection scores, then this could affect the restaurant’s reputation with the public, and therefore the opportunity for better earnings. By training restaurant employees on the most common critical violations for health inspections, and conducting internal audits, the restaurant will perform well on and ace any inspections from the local health department. Preparation for inspection activities will train employees on what to expect so that when the health inspector arrives, everyone knows what to do.

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