Depending on which state you’re in, a health inspection will be done on your restaurant at least once a year, sometimes more. Health code violations run the gamut from pretty benign (a broken window screen) to pretty bad (mold in the walk-in) but no one wants a violation of any kind on their record.
By following these guidelines for maintaining a clean and safe restaurant, you will be better prepared to pass a surprise restaurant health inspection at any time – plus, it’s just good practice for keeping your staff and guests safe and healthy.
Practice Safe TCS Food Storage and Holding Practices
We know guest and staff health is at the top of any good restaurateurs priority list, but in the hectic world of restaurant kitchens, it can be tempting to cut corners or bypass steps in order to save time. Keep a close on these easy-to-solve, yet common violations to keep your score high.
When TCS (Time/Temperature Control for Safety) foods sit for too long in the danger zone they have greater potential to grow bacterias that cause foodborne illnesses. By following proper TCS protocol – which includes the cooling, heating, storing, and handling of high-risk foods – you can ensure a positive mark on that part of your restaurant inspection.
Label your Food Storage Bins
All of your TCS foods should be in storage bins a food rotation label that identifies the following:
- Type of food
- Date the food was prepped and added to the walk-in
- Date the food will expire
Labeling your foods will not only win you points with the state health inspector, but it also prevents foodborne illnesses and can save money. If you see that a large amount of a certain type of food is about to expire, you can run a special utilizing that ingredient so it doesn’t go to waste.
In addition to TCS best practices, food safety means ensuring foods aren’t cross-contaminated during storage, prep, or cooking. Some tips on avoiding cross-contamination include:
- Store raw meats on lower shelves and produce on higher shelves in your walk-in.
- Remind your staff of hygiene practices like handwashing, glove usage, work attire, and hair restraints.
- Install separate handwashing sinks in an easily accessible area, like near break rooms and entrances to the kitchen.
- Properly sanitize all tools and kitchen work stations before starting another task.
- Use separate cutting boards and knives for raw poultry, other raw meats, and produce. (If this isn’t possible then prep these types of items separately and sanitize between each one.)
Cook Proteins to the Right Temperature
Anyone who’s been through a restaurant health inspection knows that the inspector always has their trusty thermometer on hand. While they’re looking to ensure that the TCS requirements are being met, they also might check meats, eggs, and seafood before they hit the dinner plate to ensure they are being cooked to the right internal temperature.
Confused about licenses and permits? Download our guide to find out what you need for opening day.
Use the Right Tools and Equipment
The National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) is an independent and accredited organization that works to protect human health around the world. They set the standards for what kind of equipment can or can’t be used in commercial kitchens based on a certain set of standards.
Getting caught using non-NSF approved equipment during your restaurant health inspection can cost you points, so visit the NSF website to ensure your tools and equipment meet the criteria.
Practice Proper Cleaning and Sanitizing Guidelines
A surface or object may look clean, but that doesn’t mean it’s sanitized (free from 99.9% of harmful germs or bacteria). Follow some of these best practices to create the cleanest environment possible:
- Thoroughly wash hands in a designated hand-washing sink before you start cleaning, prepping, or cooking.
- Create a step-by-step cleaning checklist for each station so each member of your staff is following the same procedures.
- Follow manufacturer’s directions for cleaning. This includes instructions on cleaning supplies and equipment.
- Use the right sanitation bucket to avoid cross-contaminating or using the wrong chemicals on the wrong surface.
- Wash all BOH and FOH flatware, glasses, mugs, and utensils in 171°F water to properly sanitize. Once sanitized, don’t touch any area that will touch food or come in contact with a guest’s mouth.
Get Ahead of an Infestation
Bugs and rodents love food, and restaurant kitchens have plenty of it. Any type of infestation from ants to rats will deter most customers, so prevent a pest problem before it starts by:
- Ensuring your dumpster lids are shut tight and not overflowing
- Keeping exterior doors and windows closed as much as possible. Consider investing in an air curtain when the door needs to remain open for loading and unloading.
- Sweeping up crumbs and cleaning between cushions and in other tight spaces.
- Keeping food stored in tightly sealed containers.
- Keeping indoor trash bins clean and always use a liner.
- Regularly check and clean floor drains, sinks, and other plumbing.
- Contacting a local pest control agency to see what type of regular treatments they offer to deter pests.
Have Your Staff (and Yourself!) Obtain a Foodhandler’s License
It isn’t required in some states, but obtaining a Foodhandler’s License is a best practice for anyone in the industry. When you and your staff are all on the same page about how to best clean, maintain, and run the kitchen, most of these tips will be second nature.
While having a health inspection done on your restaurant can be stressful, most of the tips above are common knowledge in the industry. It’s just a matter of taking the time to do things the right way. And if you find yourself with a violation it’s not the end of the world! Paying a fine or having to update equipment is a hassle and added expense, but there’s always a way to bounce back from a misstep.