Posted by Patrick Maness
No matter how diligent you are at following food-safety protocol, or how meticulous your managers are about ensuring the food is clean, properly monitored and stored at the right temperature, a visit from the food health inspector can be a nerve-racking experience.
This is because many in the food industry tend to believe the inspector is someone who can easily break them. A health violation, after all, can carry major consequences for your business. You might get shut down for weeks and rumors will spread, scaring away both your future customers and your base. Even if you survive, the PR backlash can be costly, and the damage to your establishment’s reputation permanent.
The logic of restaurant inspections
The FDA Food Code is a set of guidelines, based on sound scientific findings, that are meant to help the foodservice industry reduce the likelihood of food-borne contagions and diseases. Published every four years, the Food Code is not a law or a set of strict regulations, but it does provide standards that should be adopted by states, as well as restaurants. To put it simply, it’s a reference that provides a scientific basis for food regulation.
And because these guidelines are not law, states voluntarily adopt these standards — meaning food regulations differ from state to state.
Generally, a food inspector’s knowledge extends beyond what is required by the state’s regulations. It’s important to remember they aren’t there just to check off a box and either pass or fail you. Far too often restaurant owners think the inspector is some sort of police officer, coming through just to make sure everything is in order.
The truth is, however, that the health inspector is really there to work with the restaurant and help educate its staff. They shouldn’t be seen as a menacing taskmaster who might shut down your restaurant. They should be seen as a partner.
For various reasons, it’s impossible to know every regulation, but by and large, the biggest infractions inspectors find fall under just a few categories.
No doubt there are some big culprits, such as rats, unkempt hair, and cockroaches, but far more hazardous are the unseen dangers that can create unclean conditions.
In its “Dirty Dining Report,” the Center for Science in the Public Interest listed The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) five most critical food safety issues:
Holding temperatures — A recent FDA report concluded that nearly 65 percent of restaurants did not comply with the hot and cold storage recommendation in the Food Code. Proper temperatures are important in order to prevent the spread of Clostridium, Salmonella and other bacteria.
Handwashing — There’s a reason every restaurant has a sign reminding employees to wash their hands. The CDC estimates that 20 percent of foodborne illnesses are passed on by workers, and hands are the main way they spread.
Improper cooking — Undercooked chicken, pork, eggs and more can contain bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli.
Contaminated food that has come into contact with surfaces — Failing to properly sanitize surfaces that have had contact with uncooked meat can result in bacteria jumping from one food to another. This both spreads and creates contagions.
Food from unsafe sources — Knowing and trusting your suppliers is key to ensuring a safe operation. Food that is served without being cooked — leafy greens, tomatoes, raw oysters, some fish — are the most susceptible to being contaminated and served to a customer.
In this series of blogs, we’ll take a closer look at some food-safety measures that will help you in the never-ending battle against germs and bacteria. These blogs will not only help keep your business clean, but they will also help you build a better relationship with the food inspector so you can work together to build a healthy business and industry.
Ice machines and other kitchen areas with the highest safety risks
In the world of food equipment, who are the usual suspects when it comes to hosting bacteria? The ice machine seems to be the most famous one, but we’ll take a look at others and provide tips for mitigating safety concerns.
Some foods can be especially challenging when it comes to food safety. For instance, some food safety experts say they don’t eat raw oysters, raw or under-cooked eggs, meat that isn't well-done, unpasteurized milk and juice, and raw sprouts. Is this overkill? We’ll look at the challenge restaurants and businesses face when serving food customers want that may also be a risk to public safety.
How to clean your ice machine
We’ll dive deep into the safety concerns surrounding the ice machine. We’ll look at daily recommended cleaning and deep-cleaning tips for making sure your ice machine doesn't trigger a red flag during your next health inspection.
Signs, signs, everywhere signs
If you don't want a “do this and don’t do that” sign on every square inch of your business, what are some guidelines or tips regarding buying and prioritizing signs in order to keep food safety and hygiene on your employee’s minds? We’ll look over some creative sign ideas for food prep, washing and cleaning, and other policies.