To avoid the embarrassment and hassle of failing a health inspection it is important that employees and management buy into one word: vigilance. That’s what it takes to regularly check food storage, the cleanliness of cooking and non-food surfaces, and even the bathrooms.
Kitchen workers must follow a plethora of regulations for food temperature, storage, and handling, which is why it’s important to always have a restaurant health inspection checklist. Looking out for the little things can easily be pushed out of mind. Especially with restaurant workers whose primary job revolves around preparing and serving food, or cleaning up after food service. That is why some of the most common reasons restaurants are flagged for health code violations have nothing to do with food.
As a restaurant owner or manager, it is your duty to instill a culture of food safety, hygiene, and cleanliness in all your employees. Keep your employees focused on these often overlooked violations at all times, not just during your restaurant inspection preparation. Just a few low-risk violations can cost you that A grade in your next inspection.
Out of sight, out of mind. When there is no food on a prep table or cutting board, workers may be inclined to temporarily store towels, papers or trays there for side jobs. While those may seem clean, they are touching potentially unclean surfaces, or are making clean ones unsanitary.
Another red flag is employees using their cell phones or storing them on food prep tables and stations. Because they go everywhere we go, cell phones present a risk for contamination.
Practices: Establish protocols so either food workers clean and sanitize prior to working on the surface, or the last to use the surface does. Always keep cell phones away from food workers and food surfaces.
You pick up food and place it in the mixer. You run the mixer and clean the bowl and mixing attachment. Good job. Now, what about the top of the mixer, which you touched and will touch again the next time you use it?
That’s just one example of how cross-contamination can occur when a regularly-touched surface isn’t regularly cleaned. It’s also a surface your health inspector will check. In fact, the general cleanliness of your kitchen plays a big part in every inspection, which is why they check floors, walls, ceiling, and vents.
A kitchen without ideal ventilation needs to be cleaned more regularly. Otherwise, the film of grease that forms on the floors and walls is sure to get you marked down because it breeds insects and bacteria.
Practices: Wipe down equipment and surfaces like non-food tables in the kitchen after each shift. If your floors and walls are often slippery and grimy, increase the frequency of your deep cleanings and consider ventilation improvements.
Handling tableware and glassware safely is just as important as proper food handling. After all, it will eventually touch the customer’s food and mouth.
Bare hands should never touch food surfaces or those that will come in contact with a customer’s mouth. That means servers should hold dishes by the edge, utensils by the handle, and glasses by the stem or base. This applies to dishwashers, too.
Practices: If your restaurant uses hosts, have them clear extra dishes, flatware, and glassware when seating guests. Cover all utensils and store all plates and glasses upside down, away from guests.
Your staff knows this is the sanitizer and can read the side of the bucket for the correct concentration of quaternary ammonium, bleach, or iodine required. Yet a common mistake is to assume that the towel soaking inside the solution is a magic bullet against bacteria.
A tip-off for health inspectors is a cloudy solution in your sanitizer bucket. That means the solution hasn’t been refreshed every four hours as required, or it is being used to clean and not just sanitize.
Practices: Make sure employees first wipe surfaces with a soapy towel (or if dry food, even a paper towel) before coming back with a towel that’s been soaking in the sanitizer bucket.
It wouldn’t be a list of restaurant inspection tips without including hand washing now, would it? Because this is something that must be done so often, it is common to start slacking on. That dip in vigilance is, therefore, a common violation during an inspection.
You can’t wash your worker’s hands and forearms for them (yes, the soap needs to clean past their wrists) but you can be sure to post proper reminder signage and provide access to all the necessary soap, towel and trash cans. A broken soap or paper towel dispenser may seem like a ‘fix-it-when-you-can’ task but a health inspector will quickly make it an urgent one.
Encourage workers to remind each other when they need to wash their hands, not just after using the bathroom, but after handling ingredients and utensils with potential for cross-contamination.
Practices: Give workers a “supplies” board to write down when soap or towels are running low. Assign a designated fixer to address any problems with the bathroom sink that may arise during service when the other workers will be swamped with their duties.
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