Restaurant kitchens are a high-pressure environment: aside from the everyday dinner service rush, there’s the long-term pressure to abide by both brand quality and food safety standards. It’s no secret that tension often mounts in preparation for a health inspection since many restaurants struggle with maintaining busy kitchens spick-and-span. But it’s important to remember that at its core, good food is safe food — health inspections exist to keep restaurants accountable to food safety standards.
Every restaurant must pass regular inspections to stay open — a guarantee that each dish is cooked properly and ingredients are stored safely to maintain fresh, quality taste. The key to passing a health inspection starts with understanding health and food safety codes. While health inspectors will issue warnings for violations, accumulating the maximum limit will result in a shut-down, often without advance warning. The good news is, this is completely avoidable with a solid food safety and regular kitchen cleaning plan, so health inspections become a routine experience.
What to Know Before a Health Inspection
What do health inspectors look for? Each health inspection follows established guidelines for assessing food safety, which starts with kitchen cleanliness and maintenance. Health inspections cover the entire kitchen, starting with food storage in used commercial refrigerators and food preparation techniques and cleaning protocols to ensure a safe and pleasant dining experience.
Health inspectors typically conduct routine inspections twice a year without prior notice — a way to ensure that restaurants follow health code even when no one’s looking — as well as when a customer files a complaint.
Some of the most common sources of health code violations are avoidable if restaurants established a regular kitchen cleaning and maintenance plan and trained staff in safe food handling techniques. These include:
- Improper food storage: food items and ingredients are commonly stored in used commercial refrigerators. These need to be regularly checked and calibrated to ensure that food is stored in consistently cool and safe temperatures.
- Poor personal hygiene: kitchen staff must practise proper handwashing, wear hairnets and other protective equipment, and clean their fingernails to ensure safe food handling.
- Poor kitchen sanitation: the entire kitchen and all equipment used must be cleaned after every use and thoroughly sanitized after every shift.
- Cross-contamination: meats, produce, and dry goods must be stored separately in clearly marked containers and shelves inside used commercial refrigerators. These ingredients shouldn’t share chopping boards and other food prep tools to prevent allergens and other harmful particles from spreading and causing foodborne illnesses.
How to Prepare for Health Inspection
It’s important to remember that health inspections are routine — they’re only stressful when you’re unprepared and haven’t been following food safety standards, so much that a deep cleaning is overdue and taxing. In fact, it’s most helpful to treat every day as if a health inspector would show up: it ensures that every dish served to customers doesn’t just taste good but is safe to eat.
Preparing for a health inspection — and treating every day as if a health inspector would show up unannounced — starts by practicing these safety tips and turning them into good habits:
- Know the health code: the restaurant industry is governed by specific standards outlined in the health code. These include ideal temperatures for food storage, cooking methods, and waste segregation and disposal guidelines.
- Avoid common violations: food storage, hygiene, and cross-contamination are the most common sources of health code violations, which can be prevented with strict cleaning and food handling protocols to prevent infections and foodborne illnesses.
- Staff training: kitchen staff need to be properly trained and certified for food handling according to industry standards — they shouldn’t just be able to cook well, but also clean and maintain a safe kitchen.
- Develop a maintenance checklist: since health inspections cover kitchen appliances to ensure optimal function for food storage and preparation, it’s essential to book a regular maintenance service for appliances like used commercial refrigerators. Some sellers offer a 3 to 6-month warranty on used refrigerators, as well as discounts for maintenance and repair to detect the first sign of damage and prevent spoilage and ensure proper storage.
- Conduct self-inspections: food safety starts with you — get restaurant staff in the habit of routine health inspections by conducting regular checks on your own, similar to how a health inspector would. Assign staff to monitor temperatures of food stored in used commercial refrigerators, and do spot-checks on dishes before serving to customers to ensure they’re up to code and brand quality.
What to do After a Health Inspection
A health inspector will assign a grade to your restaurant after the inspection. Compare this to the scale used by your local health authority to see how well — or poorly — you did, and what you need to improve on.
Since the rating also impacts your business, it’s important to know what protocols need to be modified in order to maintain a good grade or improve it. For severe violations, health inspection ratings may result in certain restrictions, so you will need to make some adjustments to food storage, handling, and kitchen sanitation right away.
It also helps to follow the inspector during the inspection, so the assessment won’t come as a surprise. You may be able to ask questions or explain some food handling protocols to demonstrate knowledge and adherence to the health code.
Practice Food Safety in Every Dish
There’s nothing to fear with health inspections as long as you do your best to follow food safety standards and the health code. By treating every day as if an inspector could show up, you can prevent violations and eliminate the risk of spoilage, waste, and foodborne illnesses caused by improper food storage and handling.
Start with a kitchen inspection checklist and make it part of the staff’s daily routine. Inspect all appliances like used commercial refrigerators and food prep areas after every shift to ensure that these are clean, and check the quality of each dish to ensure that meats and produce are cooked safely. By making food safety and kitchen cleanliness a standard, you can definitely pass your next inspection — and secure long-term customer trust with fresh, quality taste and utmost safety in every bite.