Don't fear the Health Inspector!
The Health Inspection
Disclaimer – this story is NOT an official reference sheet to the codes and rules of a state health inspection. These are simple tips of what I have seen the inspectors focus on. They are also written with some humor, although I need to go on record and say that filthy restaurants are no laughing matter.
There is one thing that can sometimes cause SOME managers to go into panic attack mode.
You are in your restaurant, and you see a person come through your door with a briefcase. They start their walk towards the kitchen. You recognize them from somewhere, when all of a sudden it hits you.
The local Health Inspector!!!!
Typically they will B-line right for the kitchen, barely acknowledging anyone. What do you do?
No, it’s not race them to the BOH to start the fire drill of putting kitchen towels in sanitizer, running your can opener through the dish machine, checking dates and scaring your entire staff…You walk up and politely greet them.
So you are too busy? Don’t have the time? They don’t even have an APPOINTMENT? Too bad my fellow restaurant manager…You are now spending the next hour or more walking your building with your career and reputation on the line: Literally.
Now the short answer on how to get a great inspection is to always treat your restaurant like they are due today. Follow Servsafe practices to the letter and get 100% of your team on board with WHY getting a great report is so important…And it’s not for regional bragging rights.
Get your Servsafe certification here. (Thanks Troy)
I have compiled a short list of “hot buttons” that in my experience will hopefully prevent your inspector from writing a book. (See my above disclaimer)
I mentioned the can opener - That is typically one of the first places they look. Look at yours right now. Even if it is “clean”, if the gears are stripped and the chrome is peeling, it is time to get a new one. My guess is there may be a mix of applesauce and ketchup build up however. Oh and the plastic guide that forms a square that the shaft of the opener goes in? They are removable and are meant to be cleaned.
The dumpster lid - I have had a mark on my report before the inspector even came inside. They must be closed all the time. If your back dock looks like a pig sty, then that sends not only a bad message to inspectors, but purveyors and other visitors…Treat it like your kitchen.
Kitchen towels - If the inspector is in a good mood, they may ask if they are for getting hot pans out if the oven. However if you have 20 of them, ½ filthy and no sanitizer buckets in sight, then you are clearly harboring bacteria and spreading it around your restaurant.
Thermometers - They need to be everywhere and they need to be calibrated. If your reach-in doesn’t have one how do you really know it’s less than 41 degrees?
The fastest way to a critical violation is hot and cold temps. If your hot food and chilled food are living in the danger zone, you are in for a long day…Get in the habit of temping food throughout the shift and have a temp log to prove you are all over it.
Dates, labels, rotation, oh my! - Your stored food should all be able to be identified by looking at the container. It should tell you when it was made, what it is and who made it. Shelf lives vary from state to state, but know how long you can keep food before it becomes the employee meal.
Fans - They are located in your coolers on the compressor, in the ceiling and sometimes they are free standing to help keep the kitchen air moving. Dust builds up in a matter of days. That is just debris waiting to break loose and wander air born until it lands in your food. Again this is something that if it doesn’t fall on a PM, it may get overlooked.
Food items on the floor - There is a 6 inch off the floor rule, that is fairly universal…Boxes of potatoes seem to live on the floor. Most inspectors aren’t in love with milk crates either.
Hygiene -This is perhaps the most watched behavior by inspectors and the most violated by staff. I have seen kitchen staff putting on 5 gloves per hand so they can be torn away fast after handling raw chicken and going to the sandwich station…Not going to fly and you WILL be a critical for this. Constant trips to the hand sinks and fresh glove changes are what it’s all about. No less. When your inspector is just standing there observing, he is looking for behaviors. Cross contamination from dirty hands is dangerous and the sooner your teams are on good habits, the safer everyone will be.
Ice Machine -Mold grows in there where the ice shoots out. It is easy to see and detect and it is bad! You need some sort of preventive maintenance to make sure you are burning and cleaning your machine 3 or 4 times a year. (preventive maintenance programs are REALLY important)
Cooler hierarchy -If your raw chicken is stored above your apple pie, you should probably find other work as nothing will save you.
Unlabeled chemical bottles are another thing that will cause the inspector to continue to dig your grave. Various colored spray bottles with no indicators are dangerous. MSDS and following the rules are the only way to go here. Bleach and water look identical.
YOUR focus - Here is the thing. Your involvement in this process needs to be laser focused. The BEST things you can do are to follow closely and take notes. Act interested. Pretend you are there to learn something. The more you are paying attention the better off you will be. The inspector is the teacher and you are the student. I could care less if your management experience is greater than the age of the inspector.
Make corrections along the way if possible. Pick off the little things (have a staff member assist) that don’t interfere with your focus. Does it mean you will not see those things on the report? No, they will usually end up there; however it shows your willingness to make corrections.
Your relationship with your inspector – If you are in a unit for a number of years, you will likely see the same person again and again. I have aced the last 4 of 5 inspections with the only ding being a dirty fan in the employee restroom. Is my restaurant perfect? Hell no, far from it. It is because of the full emotional bank account and the relationship and the TRUST that the inspector has in me and my building. Most visits we are chatting about regs and codes and sometimes other area restaurants. All the while he does the basics (temps and cleanliness), and moves on rather quickly. So invest in the time and build the trust. I sometimes email him questions about health codes. It helps me and he digs it.
In summary, I hope you enjoyed my look at the Health inspection. Please use it as a light hearted guide to a very important process. Servsafe as many people on your staff as possible, and always have a course book to refer to for guidelines. If you really want to see where you never want to be, look up the scores and code violations of restaurants in your city. It will make you WISH for a bad yelp review instead of 6 critical violations in the paper.
Now go clean your can opener!