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How to be ready for food safety inspections? - Checklist
They are known by different names, but they bear the same purpose – to ensure that your food business complies with ...
They are known by different names, but they bear the same purpose – to ensure that your food business complies with food safety laws. Food safety inspectors or Environmental Health Officers (EHOs), as they are called in the UK, can enter your premises on any day of the week without announcing their arrival beforehand. They can come for a routine restaurant health inspection, investigate a business due to low ratings, or see if a new business complies with the law. They can also visit because a customer has complained. This is all it takes.
If you own, manage or work in an establishment that serves or handles food, you should be ready for a food inspector at all times. It is essential to follow food safety laws to their fullest and ensure that your staff memorizes the safety protocols. Not only do food safety protocols ensure high standards of health and safety and good inspection ratings, they can also help your business grow through excellent customer ratings too.
What does a food inspector look for?
A food inspector will look for a wide range of aspects when doing a health inspection report for a restaurant. They are not searching just to find something because they can, nor are they yearning to shut your restaurant down. They are there to ensure the food you produce is safe for everyone to consume. To ensure that, the food inspector will look at:
- The general condition of the premises – how everything looks, whether the construction is solid, if the layout supports good food hygiene practices, how clean food preparation areas are, whether the lights and ventilation work, etc.
- How your staff presents themselves - is their uniform clean, are they wearing jewelry or nail polish?
- The types of food you prepare - do cooking potentially hazardous food follow precise time and temperature maintenance procedures?
- Temperature controls when storing, cooking, cooling, freezing, and displaying food. All temperatures, reheating, cooling down, etc., need to be recorded, and your inspector will ask for those recordings straight away.
- Food labeling – determining the validity of product and menu descriptions and correct allergen labeling. The inspector will check every single date label in your fridge. If they find a single item without a best before date, they can take the food away with them to run tests on it.
- Personal hygiene practices - whether the staff is following correct handwashing procedures and wearing correct protective clothing.
- Cleaning schedules and techniques - the management of hazardous cleaning chemicals will be examined and the use of color-coded equipment.
- Your food safety management system - how you record food safety and what protocols you have in place to keep food safe. The food inspector wants to see your HACCP plan and your staff training records to ensure your business follows all safety principles effectively.
- Equipment maintenance - cleanliness of appliances, oven and fridge door handles, and other small details. Food inspectors will look beyond a clean-looking aesthetic – they will keep an eye out for sharp edges, faulty appliances, and broken sockets.
- Pest control methods - staff knowledge on how to identify and report common pests. The safety inspector can also ask your staff questions, like what you do at the end/beginning of each day, what you do with the trash bins every night, etc. Safety officers are always vigilant towards any signs of infestation.
Having a food inspector arrive at your premises should not be a daunting experience. Knowing precisely what a food inspector is looking for will help make your staff more vigilant in their work and, as an overall outcome for all involved, whether your food is safe to eat. So, what can you do every day not to have to worry about an inspection? How can you be ready for a food inspection? Below is a checklist to follow.
Health inspection checklist for restaurants
As you already know, the food inspector will investigate many aspects related to your food premises – from food preparation and handling to your food safety management system and documentation.
To be ready for a food inspection on any day of the year, keep the following food safety inspection checklist in mind:
- Follow a cleaning checklist. Always keep your premises clean and have cleaning schedules for your kitchen, front of the house, and bar.
- Keep your HACCP plan updated. With a digital HACCP plan, you can log in and update your system straight away if you need to add or modify a dish or a process.
- Record your temperatures. FoodDocs sends you automated reminders for the temperature checklist you have set up, so there will never be gaps in your documentation.
- Ensure cooked foods are chilled within an appropriate amount of time.
- Never open your restaurant if you don’t have hot water.
- Ensure your dishwasher has the correct sanitizer concentration.
- Observe proper handwashing.
- Ensure your staff training is up to date. FoodDocs has a Team module for all certificates and training records, and management, especially the food safety manager, will receive notifications when certificates need to be renewed.
- Have appropriate waste management procedures in place.
- Have appropriate pest control procedures in place. If you don’t have a contract with a pest control company, you must have a pest control plan (an action plan and a corrective plan).
- Avoid cross-contamination between raw and cooked or ready-to-serve products. Cross-contamination is one of the culprits of customers catching foodborne illnesses from restaurants.
Which virus is frequently transmitted by food handlers?
Foodborne illnesses continue to be a growing health problem worldwide. The majority of viral foodborne illnesses are caused by a small number of viruses, including:
- Norovirus – which is the most frequently transmitted viral foodborne illness. Norovirus causes gastroenteritis, a condition characterized by diarrhea, abdominal pain, and vomiting.
- Hepatitis A and E - causing inflammation of the liver.
- Rotavirus - a highly infectious stomach bug that is most troublesome for babies and children.
Luckily, viruses do not replicate in foods. Foodborne virus transmission mainly occurs through the following:
- Contamination of food by infected food handlers (that is, poor hygienic practices).
- Food coming into contact with human sewage, polluted water, or animal waste.
- Animal origin products being contaminated with viruses (e.g., meat, fish, etc.).
How to prevent and control foodborne viral illnesses
The easiest way to prevent viral foodborne illness can be done in two steps:
- Training your staff. Making everyone aware of good hygiene practices is the easiest way to keep the risk of food contamination to a minimum. Good hygiene practices include handwashing, thorough cooking of pork, and washing and proper handling of fruits and vegetables, etc.
- Do not allow sick employees to work.
All of the above is also why you always need to show your HACCP plan to your food inspector and have it complete and easily accessible on your premises. A digital HACCP plan comes with the significant benefit of always being ready, so your food inspector can check that your restaurant or food business observes all safety protocols and monitors all critical points. You can get a digital HACCP plan from FoodDocs in 1 hour, without the need for a food safety consultant!
What documents do you need to show to the food safety specialist?
Your food inspector wants to see all monitoring and temperature sheets, staff training records, food safety, and maintenance software. They also need to be able to look into any part of your HACCP plan. A digital food safety management system enables you to have all your records in one place, while automated notifications help ensure there are no gaps in the documentation.
What happens when a restaurant fails a health inspection?
After the inspection, your business will receive a restaurant health inspection report listing the positive and negative aspects identified during the inspection. Yes, you will be praised for meeting requirements, and it will feel amazing! On the other hand, your violations will be explained to you, and you will be given a timeframe to complete the required improvements.
There is no reason to panic when you receive a violation. It is better to direct that energy into finding solutions to the shortcomings identified in your report. Depending on the gravity of the violation, you might not even get a fine. However, your violation will be put on record, and your business will face a follow-up inspection. When given a timeframe to address an issue, use it for briefing your staff, asking them questions about safety, and testing their knowledge.
If the food safety violation is more serious, you may face a fine and might need to close the business until you fully fix the issue.
Food safety violations include, but are not limited to:
- Improper food storage (hot or cold)
- Improper labeling
- Problems with temperature records
- Sick staff working
- Staff not following hygiene protocols
- Serving improperly cooked food (especially undercooked)
- Food poisoning and AFP (alleged food poisoning)
- Non-compliant pest control
- Problems with structure and maintenance of the premises
Violations are always made public, so your current and future clients will become aware of reported violations. If you are unable to fix the issue, your restaurant or food establishment can end up permanently closed.
With that being said, there is no need to worry about food safety inspections. Yes, inspections can happen any day of the year, but if you already run your business with that in mind and use smart tools to help your business comply with safety regulations, you will always be prepared.