Preparing your Restaurant for Health Inspections

Health inspections should be an opportunity for your restaurant to shine. Here’s how to make that happen.

 

As a restaurant owner, you have the power to give people a place to take a break from the responsibilities of daily life, enjoy the luxury of having someone else prepare their meal, and feel nourished while enjoying good company, entertainment or a lovely atmosphere.  But as Spiderman said, with great power, comes great responsibility.

Ensuring that your restaurant is clean and serves fresh, safe food to patrons is your greatest responsibility. While it can be time-consuming, your success largely relies on the trust your patrons have in your ability to provide a positive experience.

 

Health inspections are a way for you to learn how to best uphold this responsibility, and provide the experience that your patrons expect. There are several things you can do – before, during and after – to prepare your restaurant and make the most of the inspection. 

Before the Inspection

If you want to comply with your city and state’s public health codes, you have to know what they are.  Preparing for a health inspection means understanding the codes that apply to you, and making sure they are addressed in your operations.

– Prepare by becoming familiar with the codes that you’re required to comply with:

•          Consider joining your state’s restaurant association. For our New Hampshire restaurants, that’s the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association. 

•          Check your state’s online resources regarding food-safety rules.

•          Refer to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Model Food Code. This set of guidelines provides a list of best practices for keeping restaurants free from foodborne illnesses.

Download your copy of the USDA’s Model Food Code

– Prepare by performing periodic self-inspections using the same form your health department does. 

In lieu of having a replica of your health department’s form, you can also download WebstaurantStore’s general food inspection checklist. It’s a concise document and serves as a great template for your own self-inspections.

Download the general food inspection checklist for your restaurant.

Here are some common considerations to address in your self-inspection.

o          How are foods cooked, cooled and reheated?

o          How often and in what way are temperatures recorded? Are thermometers functional?

o          How are potentially hazardous raw foods prepared and served?

o          How do you handle leftovers?

o          What is your food labeling process?

o          Where and how is food washed and prepped?

o          What is your hand washing and glove use policy?

o          When, how and by whom is equipment cleaned and sanitized?

o          What is the process for training new employees?

– Prioritize your team’s efforts towards tasks that address problem areas. For example, if don’t have any procedure to address safe food temperatures, allocate some time and effort training employees to take the temperature and document the results of products when they arrive, when they are stored and when they are served.

During the Inspection

When undergoing a health inspection, it is important to maintain a cooperative, professional and open attitude. Establishing a good relationship with local health inspectors is fundamental:

•          Give the inspector a cordial greeting. Politely ask to see credentials.

•          Tour with the health inspector. Think of the inspector as an outside auditor, and the inspection as an opportunity to prevent foodborne illness at your operation.

•          If you are not able to tour with the health inspector, assign a manager or staff member to take your place.

•          Never argue or be defensive with an inspector.

•          Never offer favors or food to an inspector.

•          If you are written up for any violations, make sure you understand what they are and how to correct them. Ask the health inspector to suggest a way to fix the problem.

After the Inspection

The information gained from your inspector is extremely valuable. Be diligent about reflecting on the inspection and finding areas that have room for improvement.

•          Update the form you use for self-inspections to account for the inspector’s advice or findings.

It is important to maximize the knowledge you gain during inspections by relaying it to staff and incorporating it into your day-to-day activities:

•          Hold a 10-minute briefing session with kitchen staff after the inspection, emphasizing the importance of maintaining health standards. Add your own management guidelines to make your argument more authoritative.

•          If you have staff for whom English is a second language, ask a bilingual staff member to interpret for you during these briefings.

•          Make staff participants in the conversation. Ask for their questions and suggestions.

•          Update the form you use for self-inspections to account for the inspector’s advice or findings.

The road to long-term success for a restaurant is one with many turns and transformations. The willingness to improve and ability to adapt often sets a successful restaurant apart from one that fails. Staying up to date on industry trends, compliance requirements and safety practices will provide great value to your foodservice operation. 

Proper food preparation is not a matter of complying with the law–it also means avoiding disastrous foodborne illness originating at your facility. Consider health inspectors an ally in preventing unsafe practices in the workplace that could heighten your risk.

 

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