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Pointers for the Almost Perfect Health Inspection
April 06, 2007
If you have been in the food business long enough, you have said to your health inspector – “Does anyone ever have a perfect health inspection?” In a busy commercial kitchen, perfect does not exist—clean and safe does. The goal for both, the manager or chef and the inspector / auditor is perfection. Reality and human nature say for both sides, that might be the impossible dream for a number of reasons: 1) we are busy humans; 2) Murphy’s Law; 3)those people doing inspections see a snapshot of your facility and do not have eyes in the back of their head (or bionic temperature probes built into sterile fingers)—they do look for trends and patterns of good practices or unsafe practices: 4) levels of training vary for both; 5) again, we are humans. So it’s better to plan ahead, have a food safety system in place, and do routine self-inspections for your facility with your team.
Online Inspection Reports – For your information, many states now post their inspection reports online. That means your facility reports are easily open to anyone with a computer to review (open public records law), including rechecks for the critical violations, complaints, closures, and the good reports too. Most health departments have websites that are a little hard to find, but there are companies out there that have website just for searching the various state or county databases of public inspection records. Go to: www.healthinspections.com If you have internal food safety audits done by a third party company, they are not public record, but in some large chains, manager bonuses have a percent structure based on good audit/inspection reports.
What should we expect during an inspection? 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. Some reports are scored or have an ABCD grade, but the newer inspection reports are based on the level of risk and the critical or “red” items that represent the highest hazards in food safety.
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.
What to Do Before an Inspection – According to the National Restaurant Association, here’s some pointers. The strategy for a successful health inspection is to be ready for an inspection at any time. This means that you and your managers should become inspectors and conduct weekly, in-house examinations before health inspectors arrive.
Bottom Line: Self-inspect your facility, work in cooperation with the inspector or auditor, and have your team follow the old adage of “be prepared”.
The foregoing is offered only to assist you in becoming informed and is not intended to nor does it constitute comprehensive foodsafety advice. Each operator is encouraged to develop a comprehensive food safety program.