Restaurants need to be in a constant state of readiness when it comes to health inspections. As a restaurant owner or manager, if you get in the habit of living up to these safety standards every day, there is less risk that something will be overlooked or forgotten when the day of the inspection comes around—or whenever surprise inspections are conducted.
The good news is that most restaurants go above and beyond the general call of duty, as scheduled health inspections approach in search of an “A” grade or perfect score of 100 on their inspections.
In Houston for example, you can expect at least one “unannounced” visit annually to your restaurant, according to the Houston Department of Health and Human Services. All in all, 35 sanitarians, who are the official representatives responsible for public health, monitor the approximate 12,500 food services enterprises in the area.
Restaurant health inspections aren’t only limited to full service restaurants and fast food restaurants. Mobile food carts, convenience stores, day care centers, school cafeterias, stadiums, bakeries, donut establishments, grocery stores, ice cream trucks, gas station food stores, and concession stands in stadiums and theme parks are also subject to health food inspections.
Benefits of Favorable Health Inspections
Naturally, there are quite a few benefits in a positive restaurant health inspection. The first of which is the passing grade. Restaurant patrons come to expect that “A” grade or near perfect and if your restaurant is not up to par, they’ll like patronize another restaurant that does.
An additional benefit is that it reduces the likelihood that the restaurant will face liabilities in lawsuits relating to foodborne illnesses caused by salmonella or e. coli bacteria because you’re practicing safe food handling policies.
Consequences of a Failed Health Inspection
The consequences of failing a health inspection will vary according to the degree of the problems identified, whether its a discovery of salmonella bacteria or not keeping food temperatures hot enough. Either way, at the very least, the information regarding the inspection, good or bad, will become part of the public record. This means that potential customers will know that the restaurant failed the inspection—and why it failed. Consequently, this can translate to loss of customers and a loss of business income.
Failures that are more serious in nature may result in fines and/or citations. Repeat failures, or those that are particularly serious, could result in the restaurant being closed until a thorough inspection can be conducted and passed.
Preparing for Health Inspections
The first rule of thumb to remember is to find out what the local expectations and requirements are. The standards in Houston, TX, for instance, will be different from the standards in New York, NY or Sacramento, CA. You can see the full range of the general, substantial, and serious health violations for the city of Houston here.
There are some areas of inspection that are fairly standard, such as washing hands before handling food. Others will vary. These “bare minimum” tips will help you keep your restaurant ready for inspections at all times.
1) Stress the importance of clean surfaces—not just those that come in contact with food. According to the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, “During routine restaurant inspections, the most commonly cited violations were for unclean surfaces of equipment that did not contact food and floors or walls appearing unclean, poorly constructed, or in poor repair.” Pay attention to details such as this for a more favorable health inspection.
2) Educate your staff on food safety. Don’t simply tell them this is how you want things to be done. Explain the necessity of them and hold them accountable for meeting your standards.
3) Conduct routine self-inspections. These self-inspections will help you identify areas of weakness among staff and restaurant policies as well as the possibility of equipment failure before the time for an inspection rolls around. It is a great idea to utilize a “Commercial Kitchen Health Inspection Checklist” for your self-inspections.
4) Keep excellent food safety management records. During your inspection, the sanitarian will ask to see your food safety management records, including logs of temperature checks.
Remember that the overall goal of health inspections is to ensure the safety of your customers — not to cause undue grief to you as a business owner. No matter how well you work to ensure food safety at all times, there are times when problems are missed or go unnoticed. These times are the very reason you can’t afford not to have adequate restaurant insurance—including spoilage insurance.