Inspection Info – Tips for a Restaurant Reality

By: Emily Klaus | Marketing Associate

Imagine this: you are in the middle of a busy lunch service. There’s a full house out front, and the kitchen is sweating to keep up with the incoming orders. You are enjoying the great energy. It is a delight to watch delicious food being served to happy customers. Then, right in the middle of this rush, the health inspector arrives for a surprise visit. Can you greet the inspector with a confident smile or does the sight of his or her clipboard fill you with fear?

Preparation and the right routines will make sure that every time the inspector visits, you will get an excellent write up. Knowing you are keeping things in tip-top order on a day-to-day basis takes the stress out of inspections and keeps your customers and staff safe.

The rules and regulations for food safety are designed to keep food-borne illness and contamination out of restaurants. There are no shortcuts in this area because the consequences are just too serious. You should have the paperwork from both your local and state authorities on file. If you don’t have this information, find it and read through it carefully. The good news is that the local, state, and federal guidelines are usually in agreement, and you are probably already working these common sense rules into your daily quality control routine, especially if you are required to follow a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) Plan.1

With this in mind, here are some common areas of concern.

Train Your Team to Keep It Clean

Everyone on your team should be aware of the requirements to keep all work areas clean and free of grease or dried-on food, including floors which can become exceptionally hazardous if slippery. Everyone should regularly wash their hands and wear gloves when appropriate. Everyone should know the exact temperatures to look for in the cold storage and in cooked food. Everyone on your team should know they must wash cutting boards and tools between working with raw and cooked foods. Everyone should be aware of what foods to keep separated and understand the risks of cross-contamination.

As the owner, it is your responsibility to provide training in this area and follow-up to make sure all rules regarding cleanliness are followed. There is usually a requirement for on-the-record special employee training. For example, you may need someone with documented food safety certification credentials working at all times. Check with your local and state Departments of Health to stay informed of these requirements.

Temperatures for Safety

Food storage temperature guidelines are a huge part of any inspection. The health department will be checking to make sure your cold storage is at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or below. (For some foods like smoked salmon and reduced oxygen packaged foods, there may be a special requirement for 38 degrees Fahrenheit.)

Can you say with complete confidence that your cold storage would pass a temperature test at any point in the day? During high traffic times, the door to the fridge or walk-in might be opened and closed so frequently that the inside warms several degrees. Train your staff to keep an eye on the thermometer during busy times. Consider keeping a log and record the temperatures three times a day. You do not want the inspector to order you to destroy inventory because it is too warm. That could be an expensive and inconvenient consequence.

Cooking temperatures are important, too. The benchmark temperatures for cooking are 145 degrees F or 165 degrees F for microwaved foods. The FDA has a detailed list of cooking requirements as part of their safety regulations.2 If you serve poultry, always remember that it must not be cooked from a frozen state. It has also become expected to notify customers of potential risks if they order raw or rare foods including fish, eggs, and meat.

Storage Issues

If you have a well-organized kitchen, your food storage is clearly labeled and kept neatly on shelves. Your food storage must take into account any foods that need to be kept separate. Again, everything should be at the required temperature for food safety. If you use opening, prep, and closing checklists to check and double-check cleanliness and storage, you can build maintaining your storage area into your restaurant’s daily routine.

Here are some other food storage basics that are in every inspection:

  • Food should never be chilled in contact with ice since there is a risk of contamination.
  • Canned foods must be intact with no dents or bulges in the cans.
  • All stored food should be at least 6 inches off of the floor.
  • Food should be stored in pest-proof containers.
  • Any cracks, holes, or openings that might provide an opportunity for pests to enter your food storage area must be fixed.
  • Hazardous cleaning supplies and pest control chemicals must be properly stored away from any food storage and preparation areas.

Equipment and plumbing repairs

A busy restaurant puts its equipment through the paces every shift. It can be tempting to put off minor repairs because you need to keep using the equipment to function, but this can lead to trouble during an inspection.

Inspectors are trained to look at your plumbing and will have a checklist of functions that must work, including backflow protection measures.

Your inspector will also look closely at your refrigeration areas for the proper temperatures, ventilation and may require an electronic monitor that would alert you if the temperature changes.

Cooktops, broilers, or ovens need to be maintained safely to keep your staff safe and to evenly cook food. An inspector will certainly check all of this equipment to make sure the vents and hoods are clean, too. Grease fires are never good, anyway, so make sure everything is working properly and clean at the end of each shift.

Inspectors will also check your bathrooms to make sure everything is working properly.

Is your fire safety equipment in place and working correctly?  The inspection will cover this, too.

Equipment and repairs can be expensive. Jet Capital understands how an unexpected cost can stress your business. We can work with you to get funding quickly to address immediate or emergency needs. The safety and success of your business are important to us. If you need assistance making important repairs or need to upgrade your equipment, contact us today.

Inspectors Are Experts

When your inspector is finished reviewing your establishment, he or she will go over the results with you. The inspectors who visit your restaurant are highly trained professionals who look at food service in a very scientific, clinical way. Take advantage of having this kind of expert visit and examine your operations. A huge part of the inspector’s job is to communicate with you all of the expectations of their office. This is an ideal time to ask lots of questions about what might need improvement, new technology, and any new regulations that might be in the near future. A well-trained inspector can alert you to news in the health department that could affect your business. Better yet, have this on-site expert take a look at your checklists for opening and closing to make sure your day-to-day prep is also covering all the safety basics.

Here are some additional resources to keep you prepared for inspection:

This checklist from Farmer’s Insurance Group is a comprehensive safety check-up. Your own insurer may have a similar checklist.

This guide from New York City lays out all the basics. Check for your own town’s version, too.



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