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What Do Health Inspectors Look for in a Restaurant?

Preparing for a health inspection doesn’t have to be a chore. Here at StateFoodSafety, we want to make your job easier by providing you a checklist of things a health inspector may look for when examining your restaurant.

Use this checklist to hold regular self-inspections at your establishment. Doing self-inspections will help your employees understand how important it is to follow food safety principles. They’ll also help your staff know what to do during a real inspection.

We compiled this list based off of templates from health departments around the country, including Utah, California, New York, and Texas. You can download it as a PDF or refer to this article during your practice inspections.

Self-inspection checklist for restaurantsSelf inspection checklist for restaurants

Food Temperature Control

  • Temperature log records are kept for cooking, holding, and receiving food.
  • Food is cooked to the proper temperature according to the following guidelines:
    • 165°F: Poultry, stuffing with meat, stuffed meat and pastas, food being reheated for hot-holding
    • 155°F: Ground meat, seafood, ostrich meat, marinated meat, eggs to be hot held
    • 145°F: Whole seafood, beef, pork, veal, lamb, roasts, eggs to be served soon
    • 135°F: Ready-to-eat hot held foods, including fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes
  • All food is stored outside the temperature danger zone (cold food is less than 41°F, hot food is greater than 135°F).
  • Food is cooled from 135°F to 70°F in 2 hours or less, and all the way to refrigeration temperature, 41°F, in six hours or less.
  • Food being reheated for hot holding reaches 165°F in 2 hours or less.
  • Thermometers are calibrated on a regular basis to accuracy within 2°F.
  • Records are kept for refrigerator and freezer temperatures.
  • Refrigerators keep food at 41°F or less and freezers are set to 0°F or less.
  • Food is properly thawed in a refrigerator, with cold running water, or in the microwave. It’s not refrozen unless it’s been thoroughly cooked.
  • Customers are alerted before being served when meat or fish is raw or undercooked.

Food Preparation

  • Employees are aware of potential food hazards and how to prevent contamination.
  • Fruits and vegetables are washed before being served.
  • Naturally occurring physical hazards (bones, seeds, etc.) are removed before food is served.
  • Proper utensils or gloves are used in food preparation to avoid bare hand contact.
  • There is a protocol in place when accidents happen to prevent contamination.
  • Potentially contaminated food is thrown out and preparation restarted.
  • Unpackaged food removed from the dining area is thrown out.
  • Food is purchased from approved sources.
  • Food is free of signs of spoilage or contamination.

Food Storage

  • Food is stored in cool, dry places in proper, non-toxic containers and properly labeled.
  • Food packaging is free of dents, tears, rust, or other signs of physical wear.
  • Perishable food is stored according to cooking temperature, with lowest cooking temperatures on higher shelves and highest cooking temperatures on lower shelves.
  • Use-by dates are clearly marked according to the date of the ingredient that will expire first.
  • Principles of First In, First Out (FIFO) are followed when selecting ingredients.

Employee Hygiene

  • Employees scrub their hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water after using the bathroom, changing tasks, changing gloves, and touching contaminated surfaces.
  • Hand washing signs are posted in the restroom and at sanitation stations for employees.
  • Employees wear disposable gloves and change them frequently.
  • Employees use hair and beard coverings.
  • Employees follow other important hygiene practices, wear clean uniforms, shower regularly and have clean fingernails, keep jewelry and cuts and scrapes covered, etc.
  • Employees don’t use tobacco products anywhere in the establishment.
  • Employee break and eating areas are located separately from food preparation areas.
  • Employees are asked to stay home from work or assigned duties away from food when exhibiting symptoms of or testing positive for communicable diseases.

Facility Setup

  • The facility contains separate hand sinks, mop sinks, and three-compartment dishwashing sink(s).
  • Hot water is available at 100°F and 110°F at hand sinks and three-compartment sinks, respectively.
  • The building material around the splash area of sinks is waterproof.
  • Faucets are at an adequate height above the sink to prevent backflow.
  • In each sink, the water drains properly and the plumbing is in good working order. The sinks are also free of leaks.
  • Sanitizer lines are equipped with an anti-backflow mechanism.
  • Adequate lighting is available for food preparation and service.
  • Light fixtures are covered in case of shattering.
  • The facility contains adequate bathrooms in working order to support maximum occupancy, and they are used solely as a bathroom (no storage).
  • Bathroom stalls have self-closing, lockable doors in proper working order.
  • Bathrooms are well stocked with toilet paper, soap, and disposable hand towels or air dryers.
  • There is adequate ventilation throughout the facility.
  • Carbon monoxide and smoke detectors are properly installed throughout the establishment.
  • Industrial equipment has adequate space underneath to allow for cleaning or is sealed to the ground.
  • There are no living quarters in the food establishment.


  • All surfaces are smooth, easily cleanable, and frequently washed.
  • All equipment is kept clean and in proper working order and meets ANAB standards.
  • Eating utensils are properly washed after each use using a three-compartment sink or commercial dishwashing machine.
  • Chemicals and cleaning supplies are kept away from food surfaces when in use.
  • Cleaners are completely washed away from food surfaces after cleaning.
  • Chemicals are properly labeled and stored in a separate area from food storage.
  • Sanitizers are tested using approved chemical test strips.

Pest Control

  • Any holes to allow for piping or other equipment and any cracks are sealed to prevent pests from getting in.
  • Dumpsters are on a level surface with good drainage at an adequate distance from the establishment. They are frequently cleaned, kept tidy, and covered.
  • Trash is disposed of regularly, there is no overflow of trash, and trash receptacles are covered.
  • There are no signs of cockroach or rat droppings or urine, egg casings, or fly infestation.
  • The shelving for food is at least 6 inches off the ground and, where possible, away from walls.
  • There are no live animals in the establishment besides service animals and tanked fish in the dining area.
  • Doors are self-closing and are kept closed to avoid allowing pests in the facility.
  • Approved pesticides are used properly to avoid food contamination or creating a hazard.


  • All employees have documented food safety certifications as required by the local health department.
  • Proper signage is posted (no smoking act, first aid, restaurant permit, health department rating, nutrition info, food allergen info, etc.)
  • The establishment has created and properly displays a HACCP plan.
  • All suspected outbreaks of foodborne illness have been reported to the health department.

For additional inspection tips, check out this article, as well as your local health department’s website.

Download PDF: Self-Inspection Checklist for Restaurants

— Calvin Clark

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