Without a health inspection, your restaurant could fall victim to a foodborne-illness outbreak that could ruin your establishment’s reputation and even force you to close your doors.
Section 1: What to Do Before an Inspector Visits
The proper strategy for a successful health inspection is to be ready for an examination at any time. This means that you and your managers should become inspectors and conduct weekly, in-house examinations before health inspectors arrive.
• When conducting a self-assessment, you should use the same form-or a similar form-that your health department uses and put yourself in the health inspector’s place.
• Your self-inspection should include walking into your establishment from the outside to get an outsider’s impression.
• After you inspect your operation, hold a 10-minute briefing with kitchen staff to review any problems. This step will help convey the importance of food safety to staff members.
• If your staff includes employees for whom English is a second language, ask a bilingual employee to translate the findings to them so they also understand how important cleanliness is to the success of your restaurant.
• Your self-inspection priorities for kitchen employees should include: food temperature, awareness of food types and hand washing.
• Temperature guidelines include checking the temperature of products when they arrive, when they are stored and when they are served. Doing this will reduce foodborne-illness outbreaks by 70 percent.
• Food-type guidelines are divided into three categories: beef and beef blood; chicken; and all other types of food. These three categories can never touch each other during preparation.
• The importance of hand washing should be re-enforced by posting signs at all kitchen sinks and in employee restrooms.
• Train your managers to ensure that they are up-to-date on the latest food-safety techniques. Restaurant employees can use the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s ServSafe food-safety training program.
• Review your local health code for any special, local requirements.
• Another way to influence the outcome of your health inspection is to get involved politically. Join your state’s health-code-revision committee to give a restaurateur’s perspective. Involve senior staff on such committees as well.
Now that you have prepared for the examination, you need to know what to do when a health inspector arrives. Be warned that examiners usually arrive unannounced, so you’ll want to be ready on any occasion, even during a rush.
Section 2: What to Do When a Health Inspector Visits
Don’t panic when an inspector arrives. Think of this as a learning opportunity that will benefit your operation by making it as safe as possible.
To make an inspection as pain-free as possible, you should:
• Ask to see the inspector’s credentials first. In some cases, people have tried to pass themselves off as health officials. If you’re unsure of the person’s credentials, call the local health department or the inspector’s supervisor for verification.
• Do not refuse an inspection. The examiner will likely get an inspection warrant that you can’t refuse and the examination will be even more thorough.
• Tag along with the inspector and take notes of any violations he or she finds. This gives you the chance to correct simple problems on the spot and the examiner will note your willingness to fix problems.
• Refrain from offering any food or any other item that can be misconstrued as an attempt to influence the inspector’s findings.
• After the exam, be sure to sign the inspector’s report. Signing it doesn’t mean that you agree to the findings; it only means that you received a copy of the report.
• Ask the inspector to explain his findings to your staff and offer suggestions on areas that need improvement. Even the cleanest restaurants sometimes contain health-code violations.
Section 3: What You Can Do if You Are Cited
Here’s what you can do to limit the damage of an adverse health inspection:
• Fix small problems during the inspection to let the examiner know you are willing to work with him or her.
• If you don’t understand the violation, ask the health official to explain. Don’t be confrontational.
• If you disagree with the inspector’s findings, keep quiet for the time being and appeal the decision later. Your health inspector should be your ally. He or she can improve the quality of your cuisine and save you from the devastation of a foodborne-illness incident.
Additional resources: The National Restaurant Association and its Education Foundation offer a variety of courses to improve food safety in your restaurant, including:
• A Practical Approach to Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point principles; and
• Unit-level employee-awareness materials. For more information, visit http://www.nraef.org.