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January Cartoon: How to Ace Your Health Inspections

"A" health inspection grade hamburger food truck cartoon

If you work in a restaurant or food facility, chances are good you’ve been a part of an inspection done by a local health inspector. Health inspectors are there to make sure food workers are following food safety regulations and guidelines. Although inspections may seem inconvenient, they are crucial, and may even save your business.

How often are restaurants inspected?

Depending on where your establishment is, your local health department may require surprise inspections to occur at different times. The FDA requires that inspections occur at least every 6 months; however, health departments may do inspections less frequently if facilities meet certain criteria, like if they only sell coffee or prepackaged foods.

So how can you prepare for a surprise health inspection? Here are some tips that can help you.

Tip #1: Make Sure a Certified Food Protection Manager is Present

According to the 2017 FDA Food Code, every food establishment should have a Person in Charge who is a Certified Food Protection Manager present during all hours of operation. This person should be the point of contact when an inspector arrives and should be knowledgeable about the processes done and the logs kept at the facility. In addition, this person should lead the inspector through the facility and take notes on what violations, whether big or small, should be corrected.

Critical vs. non-critical violations

As the inspection progresses, the health inspector will be looking for and noting critical or non-critical violations he or she might see. Critical violations are violations that pose a high risk to food safety and would likely cause foodborne illness, like improper handwashing or holding of food. Non-critical violations are violations that could pose a food safety threat, such as workers not wearing hair restraints or areas of the facility that may need repairs.

Your local regulatory authority may use different terms or break down the violations into more categories, so be sure you know and understand how their system works.

The health inspector will tell you how many days you have to correct detected violations. However, as a general rule, you should plan on correcting violations—especially critical violations—as soon as possible.

Imminent health hazards

In addition to noting violations, your health inspector will look for imminent health hazards. These are hazards that pose an extreme risk to food safety and would likely require the restaurant to be shut down until the regulatory authority approves the changes that are implemented.

Types of imminent health hazards include pest infestations, flooding, fire, and a contaminated water supply. If an imminent health hazard is found at your establishment, be sure to work with your health inspector to correct it properly and use licensed contractors, like pest control operators, if needed.

Tip #2: Know What Your Score or Grade Means

Once the inspection is complete, you may receive a score, letter grade, or other document informing you of violations that need to be corrected. Different health departments, counties, and states have different scoring methods, so ask your health inspector if you have questions about your grade.

How to find restaurant grades

Establishment inspection reports are considered public records under section 8-304.11 of the FDA Food Code. Special rules may apply about how you should make your report available, depending on your regulatory authority. For instance, some health departments require you to display your grade in a window, while others require you to make your report available to the public online or by request.

Your health inspector should let you know what is required in your area, but if he or she doesn’t specify make sure to ask!

Tip #3: Immediately Fix Your Violations

Once you get your inspection report, it’s crucial that you fix any violations you may have had. Some violations can be corrected immediately during the inspection; other corrections take longer and may require a re-inspection. A few common food safety violations that you may need to correct are improper handwashing, improper hot or cold holding of food, improper storage of food (i.e. storing food on the floor instead of six inches above the ground), not date marking or labeling food, and not clearly labeling chemicals.

Once you have corrected each violation and done a re-inspection if needed, be sure to train your food workers and remind them often of good food safety practices so they don’t fall back into bad habits. Try things like hanging posters in visible areas and changing them often, doing mini-trainings before shifts start, and immediately correcting any violations that you may see to prevent repeat violations from occurring.

Following these simple guidelines can help your health inspections go smoothly and make your establishment a safer place. For more resources, training materials, and other food safety tips, visit

— Janilyn Hutchings

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