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The Health Inspection Process

When a health inspector from a governmental regulatory agency visits a food service facility, they need to learn about your operation. The regulator will ask lots of questions to identify what types of food processes are at your facility and what potential food safety hazards might exist. They will observe your food handlers and may ask them questions. The best advice is to know the processes in your facility, cooperate, answer questions honestly, keep your staff well trained in food safety, and utilize the inspection as an opportunity to learn even more.

Responsibilities of Health Agencies --Food safety measures are so important to public health, that nearly every facet of the food chain is regulated by federal and state agencies. The basis of these regulations is to make sure that food offered to consumers is safe, unadulterated and honestly presented. Inspection frequency varies based on your level of risk, but usually it's 2-4 times a year. State and local health departments usually have the most control over food safety inspections in food service facilities and are responsible for:

  • Issuing permits to operate;
  • Providing advice on all aspects of food safety;
  • Conducting regular food safety & sanitation inspections;
  • Enforcing the state or local food code.

    Health inspection agencies have "policing" powers to conduct routine inspections at any time during normal business hours or by prior arrangement. They are entitled to observe and inspect all practices and records relating to food safety, so you should anticipate that they will look at such things as personal hygiene standards, time & temperature control, measures to prevent contamination, the effectiveness of cleaning, sanitizing, and pest control, and conformance with your HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) plan, if you have one. As the food safety professional, you will be expected to demonstrate knowledge of safe practices and legal requirements.

    Questions Inspectors Might Ask - This list is certainly not all of them, but it gives you a perspective of some important food safety questions they might ask and observe your crew's practices.

  • Do you prepare any foods several hours in advance of service? How are they cooked, cooled & reheated?
  • What ready-to-eat foods do you serve?
  • Do you have temperature records - who records them - where are the thermometers - how do you calibrate them?
  • What potentially hazardous raw foods do you prepare and serve (eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, etc.)
  • Do you serve raw, lightly cooked or rare foods such as seafood, sushi, eggs, ground beef, prime rib, etc.)
  • How do you handle leftovers or what recipes incorporate leftovers?
  • Do you prepare foods from scratch? What is your food labeling process?
  • Do you do any catering of food for pick-up or delivery?
  • Where are salad ingredients washed & what is the process?
  • Explain your process to limit bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods.
  • Explain your handwashing and glove use policy.
  • Do you have a written policy for an employee reporting illness or injury? What is it?
  • When, how & by whom is food contact equipment or anything in the establishment cleaned / sanitized?
  • Who does pest control?
  • What is your process to train new employees and are your managers certified in food safety?

    Bottom Line: Inspection agencies can be helpful allies in achieving the highest possible standards at your facility. It is to your advantage to be prepared with any records related to food safety, including HACCP documentation, temperature records, and crew training records.

    `Til next time,

    Lacie Thrall
    Safety Management Services
    FoodHandler Inc.

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