What Health Inspectors Look For


Like birthday parties and lottery wins, health inspections are unexpected, unannounced and a bit of a surprise. It’s important to note the health inspector is not there to shut a restaurant down. He or she is there to both enforce local food codes and educate staff on proper food handling practices. You’re there to make delicious food, they’re there to make sure it’s safe. Listed below are some of the things an inspector will scrutinize when examining your restaurant:

Critical Items

Critical items are those that are directly related to foodborne illness. Many counties denote these as “red” items on inspection sheets.

  • Proper hand washing stations and techniques
  • Make sure food is coming from an approved source
  • Ensure cooked foods are rapidly chilled in appropriate amount of time
  • Check to make sure commercial dishwashers have the correct sanitizer concentration
  • Assure there has been no cross-contamination between raw and cooked or ready to serve products

Non-Critical Items

Non-critical items are those that are not directly related to foodborne illnesses, but can become serious problems if not corrected. These are items are usually denoted as “blue” items on an inspection sheet.

Potentially Hazardous Foods

Don’t play chicken with your chicken. Health inspectors pay extra attention to potentially hazardous foods. These foods require precise time and temperature maintenance to prevent bacterial grown and food related illnesses. The health inspector will meticulously check cooking, holding and storage temperatures of all your meat, poultry, seafood, and ready-made food products for safe temperatures. They will also ask to see your records to ensure you are doing the same.

Manager and Staff Knowledge

Restaurant owners are required to know their local health codes in order to operate a commercial food establishment. Management staff must have up-to-date training on food safety practices, and employees must demonstrate knowledge of safe food handling and preparation. The inspector will ask questions to test this knowledge.

Employee Health

The day’s lunch special shouldn’t be served with a side of cold and flu. When employees are sick, it’s crucial you don’t let them handle and prepare food. Send them home, or put them on a task where they are not handling food or utensils. Person to person contact is a leading cause of foodborne illness, and sick employees can easily transfer their germs to your customers, no matter how cautious they are.

If an outbreak is linked to a sick employee, the health department has the authority to check the worker’s medical records and take samples in an effort to pinpoint an exact cause. Sometimes, an entire restaurant can be closed until every employee receives a clean bill of health and the restaurant is sterilized, so it is better all around to send one sick employee home for a couple of days.

Note: This article is a generalization of the health inspection process. Please reference your local Food Code or health department for specific governing rules and procedures.


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