Restaurant health inspections are a necessary part of a safe eating environment for diners. It can even benefit the long-term well-being of employees, especially the kitchen staff.
But the prospect of a health inspector visiting an establishment is enough to get restaurant owners feeling nervous.
Part of that is because the process is often misunderstood.
How does the inspection process work? How are restaurant health inspection scores calculated? And more importantly, how does an establishment pass an inspection?
The goal of this article is to demystify what goes into a health inspection. We'll talk about restaurant reports, a health code violation list to avoid, and how to prepare for the process.
A health inspection is simply an assessment of your restaurant's compliance with city and state health protocols. Its goal is to ensure that you follow safe food handling and processing best practices for the safety of your diners and staff.
Health inspections are handled by an inspector from the city's local health department.
All restaurants, regardless of size, are subject to this process for a set period, called an inspection cycle. Often the length of time between inspections is based on the previous results of the health inspector's report.
For example, in New York City, getting an "A" grade means the next inspection will occur in 11-13 months. However, a lower grade, like "B," will subject the restaurant to a re-inspection 3-7 months later, depending on the score received.
As you can see, the time between inspections can vary. That's because most of them are unannounced.
Even if an inspection is announced, most establishments only get short notice – sometimes just an hour. Unannounced inspections are often preferable since it reflects the actual state of a restaurant's compliance.
Also, note that health inspectors can visit at any time. But often, this is after someone complains about a restaurant's health standards.
Contrary to popular misconception, a health inspector isn't there to close you down or work against you. They are more like impartial judges who comply with city health standards.
Health inspectors may visit your establishment anytime – even outside operating hours. They will look at every part of your process, from the front-of-house to the kitchen.
In particular, inspectors focus on critical aspects or the "red" items on their health inspection checklist for restaurants. Any malpractice in these areas contributes to safety hazards and illnesses, thus carrying the most significant fines.
For most city health departments, these include the following:
Aside from this, health inspectors will also have a list of non-critical items. Although it might not sound important, they can still contribute to your score. This can include calibration of equipment, the health of your employees, and management training on health standards.
After the inspection, you'll receive a report, a score or grade, and health code violations. The list of common violations is incredibly important for restaurant owners to know, so we'll cover them next.
While the violations and health codes for food service will vary from city to city, there are a few common violations:
The Covid-19 pandemic further expanded the list of common violations. This includes:
The first step to passing health inspections is preparation. Know your city's health codes and food safety guidelines. Then, ensure that your restaurant's health and food safety protocols align with it.
Next, you’ll need to adopt a strategy that assumes a health inspector will walk through your door at any time. Doing so enforces your staff to be consistently compliant with health standards so that an inspection catches no one off guard. In addition, a daily maintenance schedule is vital to keep every restaurant area clean, no matter the time of day.
Periodic health and food safety training with your staff is also helpful. In particular, make sure everyone is knowledgeable in Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HAACP) guidelines. This is a surefire way to avoid issues related to food-borne illnesses.
Even better, conduct inspections of your own. This proactive approach ensures that your processes and staff preparedness are of the highest quality.
Lastly, always give inspectors full access on the day of the inspection. Hindering them or hiding anything can arouse suspicion. At worst, obstruction of any kind can cost you a hefty fine.
An organized restaurant system is one of the key ways to improve food safety and the quality of your offerings.
At Revel, we offer a kitchen display system that allows you to tighten your production, eliminate errors and waste, and speed up customer orders safely.
To learn more, sign up for a free demo today.