What should a restaurant operator do between visits from a health inspector? The best way to ensure you pass an inspection is to perform your own. Regular self-inspections help to identify infractions and correct problems before the health inspector finds them. Self-inspections can improve food safety while reducing foodborne outbreak risk and liability of the business – which is why we’ve provided a health inspection checklist for restaurants!
How to Identify Infractions in a Restaurant
Although violation categories differ from city to city, most areas contain two to three violation categories. For instance, Washington DC has three violation categories: Priority, Priority Foundation, and Core.
For simplicity, we’ve separated violations into two general categories:
Crucial Infractions – Infractions that present an immediate health hazard and are likely to cause foodborne illness. Examples include:
- Food contamination
- Time-temperature abuse
- Lack of safe water
- Sewage backup
- Active pest infestations
- Any other condition that is a health hazard
Significant Infractions – Infractions that present a potential health hazard. Examples include:
- Food contact surfaces or equipment that require cleaning or repair
- Refrigerators and dishwasher that need repair
- Missing indicating thermometers
- Garbage stored in an unsanitary manner
- Improper cleaning and sanitizing of equipment and utensils
- Dirty ice machine or bin
- Unsanitary washrooms where supplies are not provided
10 Food Safety Steps for Self-Inspection
We’ve boiled down our health inspection checklist for restaurants down to 10 steps. Following these steps routinely will help to keep your business within code.
1. Check food temperature control (use your local health regulation requirements)
- Avoid the Danger Zone. According to the FDA, keep cold food COLD (below 4°C/40°F) and keep frozen below -18°C/0°F. Hot food should stay HOT (above 60°C/140°F).
- Check refrigerators and freezers to ensure they have indicating thermometers follow temperature requirements.
- Cook all hazardous food such as meat to a safe internal temperature and check using a meat thermometer.
2. Check food storage to ensure food protected from contamination
- Store cooked and ready-to-eat food items on shelves above raw food.
- Cover food with lids or plastic wrap and use utensils to reduce direct hand contact with prepared food.
- Use clean, safe water for preparing food or making drinks and ice.
- Label chemicals and pesticides and store them away from food and the preparation area.
- Keep all food items off the floor and store on shelves, racks, or pallets.
3. Check that all employees are practicing good personal hygiene
- All food handlers must wash hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food.
- Provide hot and cold running water, soap, and a supply of paper towels at all hand washbasins. Ensure these basins only for hand washing and not for other purposes such as food preparation or dishwashing.
- Wear clean outer garments and hair constraints
4. Check that all food contact surfaces and equipment are maintained and sanitized
- Clean and sanitize with soap and water, followed by a solution of an approved sanitizer.
- Keep all food contact surfaces clean and in good condition.
- Discard cracked utensils such as cutting boards or deeply grooved food contact surfaces.
- Wash all utensils, dishes, and equipment either by hand, using the two or three sink method (wash-rinse-sanitize) or in a mechanical dishwasher as required.
- Empty and clean your ice bin regularly. Twice a year, ice machines must be professionally sanitized. (Note: A service like Easy Ice subscription provides your restaurant with an ice machine and includes professional deep cleanings twice a year)
5. Check non-food contact surfaces/equipment to ensure good maintenance/sanitation
- Keep floors, walls, and ceilings clean and in good repair and to ensure all surfaces are smooth, non-absorbent, and easy to clean.
- Ensure the mechanical dishwasher and other equipment in good working condition.
6. Check all public and staff washrooms to ensure good maintenance/sanitation
- Always keep washrooms, toilets, and change rooms clean.
- Provide: Toilet paper, garbage container, a constant supply of hot/cold running water, soap in a dispenser, and a supply of paper towels or a hot air dryer at the hand wash basin.
7. Check waste storage/removal
- Remove solid and liquid waste from the food preparation area at least daily.
- Make sure to store garbage in a sanitary manner.
- Waste receptacles must be leak-proof, pest-proof, non-absorbent, and have tight-fitting lids.
8. Monitor pest infestation and control
- Check for evidence of infestation such as live/dead pests, droppings, nesting sites. Ensure to cover any openings to prevent pests from entering.
- Eliminate any food or water sources for pests.
- Obtain a contract with a licensed pest control operator to provide regular pest control services.
9. Food service staff knowledge on food safety
- Check to ensure food service staff have received food handler training & certified through a Food Safety Certification Course (like ServSafe) as per local health department’s requirement. Re-fresh food handlers regularly with the knowledge of safe food handling practices.
10. Maintain good operational records
- Keep records of food safety inspection reports by health inspectors and self-inspection reports, pest control schedules, and service provided equipment repair and maintenance records. Review records with managers regularly as part of the quality assurance program. Note: If you have an ice machine subscription from Easy Ice, we keep and maintain all ice machine service records for you (i.e., maintenance, water filters replacements, repairs, etc.).
Avoid Health Infractions and a Bad Reputation for Your Restaurant
With our health inspection checklist for restaurants, you can inspect your restaurant regularly for any potential violations. It’s the best way to pass a surprise inspection – and relieve any stress when the inspector comes walking in the door!
Remember, in most states health inspections are public record. Many many local news outlets publish bad scores to alert the public to steer clear of businesses that can make them sick. Don’t be the next on the list! By following the list above, you’ll be prepared during your next inspection.