Expect the Unexpected: How to Prepare for Health Inspectors


When your restaurant is bustling with customers, it's easy to loosen your grip on the food safety regulations and forget about the health inspectors. Until they make an appearance at the least appropriate time, bring out their checklists, and start ticking off violation after violation.

To successfully pass a health inspection, you need to expect one at all times. Regardless if it's a lazy Sunday or a busy Wednesday, your kitchen should always be spotless, your equipment – in good repair, and your employees should know the local health codes better than their mother tongue.

Pay Attention to Detail

Make a thorough inspection of your kitchen, bathroom, storage areas, and server stations at the start and finish of each shift. If you notice any spills, smudges, or any other signs of dirt, immediately bring this to your staff's attention – if you can spot those smears, chances are that your inspector won't miss them either. And if you're worried about overlooking hidden stains, it's always best to hire a professional oven and kitchen cleaning team.

Stained floors and walls are not the only things that could tarnish your reputation. While not necessarily hawk-eyed, health officials are known for finding blemishes on places you'd never think to check. For example, they may examine your can opener for rusty stains, check a couple of ice blocks from your ice machine for black spots, or inspect the gaskets in your kitchen equipment for signs of mould. That's why it's important to include these areas into your daily cleaning routine.

Keep Your Records Within Reach

Place all of your restaurant cleaning records in a neatly ordered folder and ensure that your documentation is up-to-date. This way, you'll be able to provide your inspector with temperature, hygiene, HACCP, and other reports as soon as he requests them.

Your kitchen staff should also pass ServSafe training and obtain certificates. This way, you'll rest easy knowing that your employees are aware of the latest food safety methods. Your health official will also become much less suspicious if he knows he's dealing with qualified food handlers.

Know Your Health Codes

Consult your local health code requirements to make a list of the critical areas in your restaurant that you need to check first. For example, you absolutely need to know if you store your food at the right temperatures or whether you receive said food from a trusted distributor.

Your staff's personal hygiene needs to meet all safety standards to avoid cross-contamination. Hang as many signs as you can to remind them that washing hands is important, especially after a cigarette break. Have the line cooks wear gloves each time they handle food. Check if they use cooking hats and aprons.

Maintain Your Equipment

You can't expect to have a hassle-free inspection when you've got barely functioning equipment. For example, if you need to calibrate your meat thermometers, do so without delay. The same goes for built-in thermometers inside your refrigerators – even if the temperatures are within the norm, be on the safe side and use a digital thermometer as well.

Your water temperature needs to meet the recommendations of your health department. But simply putting your hand under running water and screaming “Hot, hot, hot!” won't yield accurate results. Use a thermometer instead to secure those precious inspection points. Check your drains too and have your pest control services on speed dial in case you bump into a pest infestation.

Become the Health Inspector

There's no better way to gauge if your staff is playing strictly by the rules than to don the mantle of a health inspector yourself! Start by entering through your restaurant's front door to gain a customer's perspective. If your property's façade sports muddy windows or is in a desperate need of canopy cleaning, make sure to note that down. Then, arm yourself with an inspection form, a powerful flashlight, and a few chemical test strips, and storm your kitchen completely unannounced.

If you notice any mistakes, such as employees not wearing gloves or cooking on greasy grills and microwaves, silently mark those off. After you've completed your small investigation, use positive reinforcement to provide your team with suggestions on how to improve. Then, quiz every staff member to test their health code knowledge. For instance, you can ask them to explain their current tasks and the safety rules that go with them.

View Your Inspector As a Friend

Try to remain calm and confident as the neatly combed and well-dressed customer approaches your bar and reveals himself to be a health inspector. After notifying your staff of the health official's presence, approach the person and confirm his identity. Then, accompany him throughout the property and write down every problem that your inspector discovers. If you think that some of his conclusions are based on insufficient evidence, voice your disagreement in a polite and professional manner.

Correct any violations you find on the spot. For example, if the inspector learns that you've got a malfunctioning freezer and the meat inside is likely spoiled, dispose of the contents immediately. As the health official is about to leave, sign the health report and thank him for his feedback. And if the inspection didn't go as planned, try to reassure him that you'll do everything you can to quickly address the mistakes. Then hold an emergency staff meeting and stay true to your promise!

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