Health inspections are essential in preventing foodborne illnesses by ensuring that food products are handled and prepared according to legal regulations. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) estimates foodborne illnesses cause 48 million hospital visits, 128,000 long-term hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths annually. Around 70% of diners are unwilling to visit restaurants that violate health codes due to these findings. This article will explore how to put the proper food safety systems in place to prevent health violations and their consequences.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a ‘food establishment’ must be inspected at least once every six months. Local health departments carry out these restaurant health inspections.
Most health inspectors issue an inspection report graded on a letter or number-based inspection score. Every violation reduces a restaurant’s public health rating. In general, inspectors evaluate elements of sanitation like food quality, cold storage conditions, and cleanliness.
Inspectors also look for evidence that restaurant staff regularly carries out sanitation practices and uses proper food handling techniques during food preparation. It is common to present paper records that show the team performing tasks such as mopping the floor or checking cold storage temperatures hourly or daily.
An inspection violates a health code if the local Department of Health determines that the restaurant does not perform proper sanitary protocols. The penalty for the violation depends on the severity, ranging from non-critical violations to serious health hazards. Here are the four steps you should take if you find yourself in this situation.
Each jurisdiction has its rules and procedures, so always check with the health department before taking action. In general, the first thing to do if your restaurant receives a violation is to understand the offense. You will receive written inspection documentation from the health inspector, who will often reference the violated food code by section and paragraph. Look up that section of the code to learn more.
Next, identify how to correct the violation. In most cases, the correction is pretty straightforward, but occasionally, like in the case of heating/cooling or plumbing issues, you will need an outside technician to make repairs.
After that, it’s wise to figure out how to prevent similar breaches in follow-up inspections. Enlisting the help of your staff can be highly beneficial at this point, as top-down procedural directives get overlooked. To get lasting results, work to help your team understand the violation and why it matters. It may also be prudent to ask them for input on any necessary changes and how best to implement them.
Finally, you need to respond to the health department. The proper response will vary based on whether the corrected violations were critical or non-critical.
In the case of non-critical violations, restaurants are rarely financially penalized. However, the inspectors keep a permanent record to follow up on within 45 days. Non-critical violations include:
The penalty for a serious health hazard is usually fine. In severe circumstances, restaurants risk temporary closure. If restaurants cannot ensure compliance with food safety guidelines in a follow-up inspection, there is the possibility of a lawsuit or permanent closure. Examples of severe health hazards are:
Knowledge of the primary health code violations can help your restaurant avoid them in the future and prepare you to pass re-inspection. You will have the option to arrange for a follow-up inspection 5 to 45 days after the initial assessment. In those passing days, you can determine how the violations mentioned in the inspection report occurred and how you can prevent them going forward. Review the mistakes and the corrective measures needed to address the violations, put new systems in place where necessary, making your staff aware of any changes. You also have the option to appeal your score by reaching out to the health department.
While health code violations are catastrophic, they are also avoidable. Use the following tips to avoid two of the most serious.
The best way to prevent cross-contamination is to implement a safer storage strategy. Consider following the recommended storage order for food items in refrigerators and freezers. Place items from top to bottom in the order below:
Conducting nightly checks is essential to ensure your food is stored correctly, eliminating any chance of cross-contamination.
Food safety practices are critical in any food-service facility. In addition to helping avoid cleanliness infractions during the next restaurant inspection, they can help eliminate avoidable cross-contamination events. Be sure that your food handlers have received up-to-date food safety training. This training should include instruction on maintaining the cleanliness of all spaces, especially contact surfaces, during food prep. Different raw meats should have separate prep areas in the kitchen (i.e., one for raw chicken, another particular prep area for raw pork). Lastly, you should have gloved hands to ensure cleanliness and prevent cross-contamination. Even when proper hand-washing is employed, most FDA food codes discourage bare hand contact as hand-washing alone cannot eliminate all foodborne illnesses.
All restaurant owners must ensure that their refrigerated goods are stored safely and that cold storage has not slipped into the food safety danger zone. The food safety danger zone refers to temperatures between 40° F and 140° F. The longer your food sits in this range, the higher its risk of being unsafe for consumption. Using a temperature monitoring system can prevent this violation. Inspectors and operators can trust that the data they receive is accurate, properly recorded, and easy to analyze.
Accurate temperature data also helps spot trends that indicate malfunctioning equipment. For example, a layer of frost on stored items or a slow warming trend can precipitate a breakdown.
When breakdowns occur, they may go unnoticed for some time. During this period, inventory may slip into the danger zone, resulting in a violation.
You may not be able to control the timing of a health inspection. However, by taking these steps, you will be prepared when it occurs. Replacing standard paper logs with a remote temperature monitor and digital records can further aid this effort.
Therma° is building a temperature monitoring system that ensures legal compliance and prevents equipment downtime. Our temperature monitoring system logs data and provides analytics to keep tabs on your storage conditions. By automating manual temperature checks, operators can ensure that their restaurants follow safe food storage protocols.
To see how Therma° can help your restaurant avoid health code violations or improve your environmental health inspection results, visit our website to buy today.