Hello, Inspector: How to ace your restaurant’s health inspection

If you think about it, people place a lot of trust in your restaurant and your employees when they eat at your establishment. They trust that you’ve done your due diligence when it comes to preparing their meal and that you’ve taken steps to ensure cleanliness. They’re trusting you to not make them get sick. Or, you know, spit in their food. 

That’s why health inspectors check out restaurants to make sure that they’re following proper guidelines for food safety. Inspectors will oftentimes drop by with little or no notice during a busy meal rush to conduct a health inspection—they want to see how your facility runs during a typical day. They want an honest look at things.

The idea of being inspected might be stressful for everyone who works at your restaurant, but we’ve put together a few tips to help you do your best on your health inspection.

Phase One: Before the inspection

1. Know your city and state’s health codes.

You have to know the rules that you’re responsible for following, so take the time to study the guidelines your state has put together about food safety. You can also check out the FDA’s guidelines (called The Model Food Code.) These standards are meant to prevent foodborne illness, and lots of states shape their own guidelines after them.

2. Do self-inspections.

To help gear up for the real health inspection, it’s helpful to do an investigation of your own. Look at your restaurant objectively through the eyes of a health inspector. Make your inspection as authentic as possible by…

  • Not announcing it.
  • Equipping yourself with the same tools that the inspector would (forms, chemical strips, alcohol wipes, etc.)
  • Using the same standards the health inspector will.
  • Talking to your employees
    • Toss out some safety questions to gauge how well your training has been working and to keep the training fresh in their minds.
  • Taking a look at your records.
  • Knowing the questions the inspector will ask. The inspector will most likely be looking at some of the following areas:
    • How your foods are prepared (cooked, cooled, etc.)
    • How you monitor the temperatures of your food
    • How raw foods are handled
    • Where/how the food is washed
    • Handwashing and glove policies
    • How foods are labeled
    • How leftovers are handled
    • How the equipment is cleaned
    • How employees are trained   

Remember to debrief your employees after your “pre-health-inspection.” Make sure to address anything that needs to be corrected or fixed, and make sure that your employees are clear about how to do so. Note both the good and the bad—you want to be able to offer both compliments and areas for improvement.

3. Emphasize the issues that you know your facility faces.

Be aware of the problems that your restaurant faces when it comes to food safety and be sure to spend extra time on these things. You can gear your own inspection to zoom in on a particular area of concern.  

Phase Two: During the inspection

1. Welcome them.

You want to be nice to the health inspector. Be polite. It’s okay to ask for their credentials, but do so in a kind way.

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2. Accompany the inspector on their tour.

Remember, you have the same goal as the inspector: you want to prevent the spread of foodborne illness. If you can’t personally tag along, have one of your managers go on the tour with them.

3. Don’t be slimy.

Don’t offer food. Actually, don’t offer anything that might make it seem like you’re trying to bribe the health inspector. Stranger things have happened.

4. Keep your cool.

Don’t get mad, and don’t try to contradict them by explaining things away. The inspector is just doing their job and trying to keep your customers safe. Instead, listen to what they have to say. They might have some valuable insights.

5. Understand any violations.

If the inspector notes any problems, be sure to ask them what you can do to improve and correct the issue. It’s important that you know what the problem is and how you can fix it.

Phase Three: After the inspection…

1. Call a meeting.

Debrief your employees about how the inspection went. Stress the importance of food safety. While you’re conducting your meeting, be considerate of any bilingual employees—ask someone to translate if needed.

2. Get the staff involved.

Ask for questions and ideas for how to improve. The staff knows how the restaurant works, and they might have issues to bring up or solutions to offer. Your waiters and chefs aren’t chopped liver. 

3. Keep up with your self-inspections.

Don’t neglect your self-inspections just because the real one is over. Make your “health inspections” a regular thing and make sure that your restaurant is doing well as far as food safety is concerned.

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Health inspections might feel nerve-wracking and/or terrifying, but if you make food safety a priority you’ll ace your inspection. You don’t want to make any of your customers sick, so treat the inspection as a valuable learning experience to help you prevent foodborne illness.

If you need insurance for your restaurant, we can help. Give us a call or fill out our quote form and we’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have. We’ll even throw in a free insurance quote! And if you’re interested in spoilage coverage, we can get you a quote for that too!