Getting Through Your Next Health Inspection

It is an event that strikes fear in even the strongest of us – the health inspection. If you run a restaurant or catering service, you must always be prepared for the impromptu inspection. Yes, some counties and states will give you a heads up that the inspector is coming, but in most cases the visit will be a complete surprise!

With Food safety Month upon us, there is never a better time to get prepared. After all, your next inspection could be just around the corner.

Why Inspections Are Necessary

You know that your kitchen meets all federal, state and local food preparation guidelines, but let’s face it, not every restaurant or caterer is as diligent as you are. Statistics show that nearly 50 million people are sickened every year by contaminated food. With numbers like that it is vital that every commercial kitchen is inspected regularly to ensure that the foods being served are safe.

This begins with a set of rules outlined in the Food Code established by the FDA. Since there are far too many restaurants and caterers for this federal agency to monitor, they have handed off that responsibility to individual states, counties and local municipalities, who may have also added their own rules and regulations. So what do you need to do to ensure that you pass your next inspection with flying colors?

What to Do Before the Inspector Arrives

It may be impossible to spruce things up before an inspection (especially if you don’t know it’s coming), so be sure to always follow these basic food safety rules:

  • Know your local food safety rules: while the Food Code established by the FDA is a good place to start, be sure that everyone working in your kitchen knows – and follows – all local rules too!
  • Get Serve Safe certified: it may not be required, but making sure everyone who works in your kitchen has gone through this intensive training will not only ensure that your staff knows what to do; but have been trained properly in regards to food safety.
  • Keep your kitchen and coolers clean all of the time: an inspector can show up at any time of the workday, so be ready. This includes keeping surfaces and equipment clean; following all food safety rules; cleaning our refrigerators and freezers regularly; and throwing out expired food right away.
  • Conduct daily self-inspections looking for safety issues; cleanliness; etc.
  • Ask employees periodic food safety questions. This will ensure that they have the right answers should they be questioned by an inspector.
  • Install the right equipment. Keeping down instances of cross contamination can be accomplished with the right sanitizing and cleaning equipment. Check out what Metro has to offer in order to give your staff the tools they need to keep your food safe.

Surprise! The Inspector’s Here

You unlock the doors to your commercial kitchen and surprise – the health inspector shows up. It’s going to be one of those days. The good news is that if you have been following the rules, there’s nothing to worry about. So what should you do?

  • First, check the inspector’s credentials: believe it or not, there have been reports of bogus inspectors sent into restaurants by rivals who want to get a look at the way the business is run
  • Be welcoming and polite; but don’t offer the inspector anything to eat or drink ( this could look like a bribe)
  • Answer all of the inspector’s questions and give him free access to all areas of the restaurant and kitchen (never, ever, refuse an inspection!)
  • Stay calm: if you appear nervous, the inspector may thin something is amiss and begin looking harder for trouble
  • By all means, follow the inspector during his inspection. That way you won’t be surprised at the end. Besides, this allows you to fix small problems as you go along.
  • Offer to fix small issues on the spot.
  • Ask questions. If you don’t understand a violation, be sure to ask for verification
  • Sign the inspection report. This does not mean that you agree with its findings; only that you have received a copy for your own records

Once the inspection is over, you will be awarded a rating (or grade). Depending on your area, this may be a number between 0-100 (with 90 being the number to shoot for); or a letter grade between A and C (with A being optimal).

Depending on the violations, you may also be given a certain amount of time to fix the problems, with a re-inspection ordered. Of course, you can always appeal a bad score with your local health department.

Remember, health inspections aren’t meant to make your life miserable, but to safeguard your customers – and your business. Take them seriously and don’t panic. These inspections are meant to make you aware of small issues before they become big problems. Learn what you can from them and do your best to quickly fix any violations found.