Let’s say it is a normal day, a normal shift, and the kitchen is humming along like a Broadway play. Then, you feel the hairs on your neck begin to lift slightly as you suddenly realize everything is a little too perfect. The fading burn marks from thousands of saute pans dot your insult proof thick skin, silently stating you have fought and won many Mother’s Day battles. Your experience tells you what these signals mean. The health inspector is coming. This week, maybe next, but they come, always. Always they come. You, however, are cool, calm and collected. You know what needs to be done already.

‍Understanding the Health Inspection Form

  • The inspection form is arranged into two columns. The items contained in the left column are deemed to have the highest risk, or are the most likely to cause a foodborne illness.  Therefore, these items have an overall higher point deduction.  Although the items in the right column are deemed as having less risk and have overall lower point deductions, they serve as a foundation within the facility and could be contributing factors leading to foodborne illness. For a blank health inspection form click here.
  • You’ll notice the very first item on the health inspection form is to verify if someone in the operation has their Food Safety Manager Certification.  Do you or a staff member need your ServSafe® Manager certification?  This is a reminder to check the expiration date.  For example, in North Carolina there is an automatic 2 point deduction for the operation running without a Certified Manager in food safety onsite.

Begin From the Last Inspection

Review the last inspection report from the health department. You want to be sure all items which were marked out-of-compliance (OOC) on the previous inspection are 100% corrected. Hopefully this has already been done, but double check. You will also be able to point out to the inspector any issues found previously have been taken care of. Take a second to jot down any question that come to mind.

This will establish trust between your food service establishment and the health department. The inspector will see that you took the time to thoroughly review the last inspection, and actually thought about it.

Think back to when you were babysitting or have been supervising kids in any capacity. Do you remember that really annoying feeling when they don’t listen to you. This is the same feeling your health inspector will have if the previous OOC items have not been made satisfactory.‍

Develop a Self Inspection Process

Divide and Conquer Each Day

You probably don’t have time to do a full self inspection on a given day. Instead, divide the restaurant into sections: prep, line, walk-in, dry storage, etc. Or, section by risk categories such as time/temperature control, personal hygiene, and preventing cross-contamination.

Put on your inspector goggles. For example, when checking the walk-in cooler don’t just check temperatures, but look at the shelving, walls, and floors. Are food items stored properly? Date marked? Do the shelves or walls need to be wiped down?

Go Outside

First impressions are everything. Your inspector will begin looking as soon as they pull in and you want them to have a positive first impression. Circle the building and look for signs of pests, trash, or general maintenance issues. If you notice mortar cracking in the bricks or cracks around molding, a can of caulk will work as a cheap option. If you have the budget, call a pro to fix these items. Check the dumpster and recycling areas to make sure they are clean and free of food debris and in good condition, and make sure any drains plugs are not missing.‍

Brief Your Staff

Being a good manager means you are managing a team, so use your team to help with this process. Invest time to review issues from the last inspection report. People are much more motivated to change perspectives when they understand “why” it is important.

Consistent briefing or quizzing can help you identify training gaps, so as not to have the same problems over and over again. Like working toward any goal, consistency is key.  Doing the right things in the right way over and over will form good habits, and create the culture we want.

Do you need a food safety question stream for staff members? This can help retention up to 80%. Contact us and we can help

‍The Health Inspector Has Arrived

Although you and the inspector have very different professional roles, you both have the same goal! You both actually want the same thing! Remembering this will make sure you are in the right mindset when they arrive.

Stay With Them

If at all possible, be with the health inspector wherever they are. If they have a question about one of your food items or a question about a piece of equipment, then this will give you an opportunity to explain your kitchen and your processes.

They will have questions, so don’t let yourself become defensive for what are most likely innocuous questions. This will make you seem combative, and you won’t win. They only visit your operation a maximum of 2-4 times per year, and they inspect hundreds of places in between, so remember they are trying to learn your kitchen and develop an understanding for future reference.

Notes are Your Best Friend

The obvious reason to take notes during the health inspection is to show that you are taking this seriously,   and of course it will.  But also take time to go over any notes or questions you had from the previous visit.  This will show the inspector you took the time to read through it recently.  Additionally, you can bet the health inspector was reviewing the past inspection in their car right before they walked into your store.  If you have questions about something during the previous inspection, make a “note” to ask them.  This will also show you took the time to review the last inspection report and made sure everything was corrected.

Fix It On The Spot

Your health inspector will let you correct a lot during the inspection, so do what you can. They will also be much more open to this if you are with them and not hiding in dry storage. Additionally, if they see you are working to consistently improve with every visit, they will tend to be more forgiving of the small things. It will ultimately be up to them whether or not they mark it as being out-of-compliance, but correcting items during the inspection will certainly increase your chances.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions

Your health inspector’s knowledge will depend on their training and experience level. Their profession is not unlike other professions in that there are good ones, and some not-so-good ones. It isn’t up to us who inspects us, so become comfortable asking questions if something is not understood. Even if your inspector is not as knowledgeable or experienced, they have colleagues who are. Asking questions also shows you are engaged in the process and want a full understanding of what an issue is in order to correct it.  Most inspectors are willing, or at least should, get back to you with resolution if a question is posed and is not resolved on the spot.

Know Your Food Code

Inspectors are bound by what is in your state’s food code. Having a copy of your state’s food code is one of the best resources for managing every aspect of food safety within your food service operation. If you ever have a question about something in your commercial kitchen, then you can look it up and read exactly what the health inspector reads.

Need a copy of North Carolina or South Carolina codes?  Click here for a downloadable PDF and scroll towards the bottom.

‍Thus, once the inspection is over, the cycle will repeat itself.  Go nail your next health inspection!