Health inspectors are not knocking on your door in hopes of closing down your restaurant. Restaurant inspections are conducted to make sure that your restaurant is following state and local regulations. It's a matter of public safety.

For the new restaurant, health inspections can be stressful and frustrating because you do not know all of the food codes. But after you have a general idea of the health codes and what is recommended, you can work on boosting your restaurant inspection scores.

restaurant inspections

What is the Best Way to Prevent Poor Food Safety?

The best way to prevent poor food safety is to know which common health code violations are and how to correct them. An inspection checklist can help, but it’s important to always follow health codes.

One way to prevent a safety violation is to:

  • Maintain ingredient temperatures. Foods that are in temperature ranges of 41°F and 135°F are susceptible to bacteria growth.

  • Prevent cross contamination through proper food storage. Produce and meats should be at different locations in the refrigerator, too.

  • Clean and sanitize all work spaces. One of the most common safety violations is poor kitchen sanitization. Employees should clean all kitchen surfaces to ensure that they’re free from debris, dirt and residue.

  • Poor personal hygiene is another issue that will impact health inspection scores. Kitchens must be stocked with hand soap and paper towels. Hair nets and disposable gloves are also recommended.

But there are a lot of factors that go into a restaurant health inspection. When you know what the inspector is looking for, it’s a lot easier to keep your restaurant from a safety violation.

inspection checklist

What Does an Inspector Look for During Restaurant Inspections?

Food violations are not the only things that inspectors look for during inspections. The inspector will be looking for a bunch of critical and non-critical items, too. You’ll want to ensure that all items are up to standards, but always start with the critical items first.

Critical Items During an Inspection

  • Proper handwashing by employees

  • Food sources (all food should come from approved sources)

  • Rapid chilling techniques employed with cooked foods

  • Dishwashers have the appropriate sanitizer concentration

  • Foods are not cross-contaminated 

These items are a red flag, and inspectors will deduct points and cite your restaurant for a safety violation if you fail any of the above inspections.

Non-Critical Items

Your report will also consider non-critical items. These items can become a serious issue, but they will not lead to foodborne illnesses which is what a health department inspection is all about. 

A few of the non-critical items that the inspector will be checking off of their list are:

  • Valid operator permit

  • Properly cleaned walls

  • Properly cleaned ceilings

  • Properly cleaned floors

  • Changing or break areas outside of the kitchen

  • Labeled food storage containers

  • Calibrated meat thermometers

Health inspectors want to ensure that food contamination does not occur. Food requires precision temperature control and cooking times. Chilling times are also important, with inspectors considering how rapidly cooked foods are chilled to stop bacteria growth from occurring.

Inspectors will also be considering the knowledge of your staff and managers. Keep the following in mind:

  • Owners must know local health codes

  • Management must have current training on food safety practices

  • Employees must have knowledge of food preparation and handling techniques

An inspector is within their right to ask employees and owners questions about food safety and sanitization.

Inspectors will also take into consideration the health of employees. Employees who come in sick should not be handling food, and it may be best to send employees home in this case. Person-to-person contact is also not recommended because it’s the leading cause of spreading illness. Employees who are sick may cause customers to become sick, too.

restaurant health inspection

What Happens When a Restaurant Fails a Health Inspection?

If an inspection is failed, you may have to pay fines or penalties. There's also the risk of the restaurant being shut down in the most severe cases. The violations that can lead to this are:

  • Rodent infestation

  • Sewage leaks

  • Insect infestation

  • Mold on food

Owners can correct issues, and once corrected, the establishment can be reopened. It's important that all health code violations be taken seriously. Inspectors will provide a thorough list of issues that are a concern for the public.

safety violation

10 Tips to Improve Your Health Inspection Score

Past inspections should always be taken into consideration. Ensure that past violations or issues are remedied so that your score can improve. A few of the additional tips that will help boost scores on your restaurant inspection report are:

  1. Staff meetings. Weekly staff meetings and internal inspections can help. These inspections allow for an action plan that all employees can follow. Write down any pertinent issues during the meeting, with the goal of the issue being corrected within a week.

  2. Review. Old health reports can be used as a guide for cleaning and proper food storage. Use these reports to create cleaning tasks for each employee. These reports can also work as a server health checklist for their nightly cleaning routine.

  3. Check drains. All drains need to flow freely without any major blockages. If drains are clogged, call in a plumber to assess the issue.

  4. Double check temperatures. Inspectors are very serious when it comes to food and refrigeration temperatures. The right thing to do is to always double check temperatures just in case. Thermostats can lose their calibration, and a new thermostat should be used weekly to verify thermostat accuracy.

  5. Storage. Food cross contamination is often the result of poor storage solutions. Raw foods need to be separated from cooked foods, and food needs to be properly labeled to keep potential allergens away from certain foods.

  6. Clean residue. Residue, dirt and debris can collect quickly. These key areas, such as cooler shelves and surfaces, need to be cleaned daily. Create a nightly checklist where the manager or a key employee is tasked with cleaning these key areas of failure.

  7. Conduct a new health inspection. Keep your team in check by inspecting their work. You can call on the health inspector and schedule your own inspection. The idea is that you want the inspector to check the work of your employees. The inspector will gladly check this work, and it may help you receive a higher health score as a result.

  8. Bleach your cups. Glasses and cups must be stored properly, and they must also look clean. One recommendation is to bleach cups, such as coffee cups, which have a tendency to look dirty over time.

  9. Inform your staff. Staff members should be informed about health inspections. When employees know that a health inspector is coming in, they will be on their best behavior and remain extra diligent when trying to boost your restaurant’s health score.

  10. Employee health. Employees may need to be wearing gloves, hair nets and also need to wash their hands often. Provide all of the sanitization items that employees need so that they’re not an issue when the health inspector comes around.

Restaurant cleanliness is a major area of inspection, and if employees are inadequate in their cleaning, hiring a professional cleaner may be an option.

If your restaurant receives a poor score, you can request a re-inspection within a 5- to 45-day period. Your plan should be to correct as many violations as possible at this time. Review the violations that the inspector noted and make changes accordingly.

Determine how violations occurred and put preventative measures in place to stop a reoccurrence. With simple, precise steps, you can improve your restaurant’s health inspection score.