Food safety

What should be done following health violations from an inspection?

Health code violations are notices to non-compliant food establishments concerning their food safety approach Three ...

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  • Health code violations are notices to non-compliant food establishments concerning their food safety approach
  • Three main violation categories are priority violation, priority foundation violation, and core violation
  • Depending on the violations, inspectors may give a 5-day or 14-45 day notice to correct the violations

If you have been in the food industry for quite a while now, you would know how rattled food handlers can get when a food inspector arrives. Right from the start, food business owners are made aware that food safety agencies and health departments would conduct inspections to ensure and uphold food safety standards.

Agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration and local health departments can come at any time within your hours of operation without any prior notice and evaluate your establishment. While what everyone aims for is a great score after an inspection, minor and major health violations are quite common. As such, food handlers must be aware of what should be done following health violations from an inspection. 

To prevent foodborne illness outbreaks from occurring, the US Food and Drug Administration has released particular food safety guidelines under the Food Code. Since these are just guidelines and suggestions, different states adopt them and enforce their own regulations. Health inspections are carried out using an inspection checklist containing standard food safety practices.

While many food business owners dread a health inspection, there is no reason to be afraid of it. Routine inspections actually help your food establishment maintain high standards. The key is to prepare for them and continuously apply food safety practices so that they become an integral part of your everyday operations.

What happens in case a health violation was found in your food business? Find out in this article and learn about the most efficient digital solution for your food safety operations. 


Health Inspector Meeting With Chef In Restaurant


What are health violations in food safety?

Health violations in food safety are notices given to a food establishment by an authorized food inspector for non-compliance with important food safety regulations. Violations of health codes put the health of customers at risk and increase the potential of causing a foodborne illness outbreak.

Health codes are written guidelines for food establishments aimed to protect consumers with safe food handling practices. These health codes must always be followed at all times. Detection of non-compliance during a health inspection may warrant violation notices with appropriate sanctions depending on the degree of violation.

It is important to remember that in the US, every state may have its own set of established guidelines. Although, there are general rules that are acceptable throughout the country. Differences may arise in terms of minimum and maximum limits.

Appropriate penalty and corrective actions are dependent on the degree of health violation.


What are the health violation categories?

There are several types of violation categories depending on the established health code of a state. These categories aim to identify whether the violation poses a direct threat to public health or is just a minor issue that can be easily resolved. 

Health violations are scored and the accumulated score is used to evaluate the sanctions given to a food establishment team. Originally, health code violations were categorized as either

  1. Critical violations
  2. Non-critical violations

Following the revisions of the FDA Food Code, violations were further classified into three categories. This new classification was established to help both the food inspectors and food business owners in identifying the appropriate corrective actions for the identified food violations.

In classifying health code violations, the list includes items under the following categories:

  1. Priority violation. This type of violation involves non-compliance with food processes that directly affect the levels of present food safety hazards that can cause foodborne illnesses. Violations included in this category involve operations such as cooking, pasteurization, hot holding, and personnel hygiene. Priority violations require immediate correction after being identified by the health inspector. Previously, priority violations were identified as critical violations.

  2. Priority foundation violation. This refers to violations of actions that directly support, aid, or enable the successful execution of priority functions. Items under this violation require the intervention of specific actions by the industry management to control the food safety risk. Priority foundation functions may include training, appropriateness of infrastructure, HACCP plan, and recordkeeping.

  3. Core violation. This violation refers to operations such as sanitation, operational programs, general maintenance, waste management, and standard operating procedures. Core violations may be corrected within, but not exceeding, 14 days after the results of the inspection.

In addition to these categories, other types of violations are categorically recognized such as imminent health hazards, foodborne illness risk factors, and violations of good retail practices. Depending on the number and degree of health code violations, penalties may range from simple fines to suspension of working license.


FoodDocs food safety system-1


What are 5 common food safety violations?

Among the many food safety violations that occur in food establishments, health officials usually find at least 5 common ones. Consequently, these common violations are also the ones that food inspectors usually look out for. To help you monitor and ensure that you've got these points covered, here are 5 of the most common food safety violations:

1. Inadequate or improper handwashing. Although very basic, this simple operation is often overlooked and commonly observed by food inspectors. Proper handwashing is a prerequisite for a safe and clean food handling environment. Several foodborne pathogens and other food safety hazards can be transferred into the food being prepared when food handlers do not practice handwashing. 

In addition to the proper way of handwashing, food handlers must also be aware of where they can wash their hands to avoid cross-contamination.

2. Time and temperature control for foods. This violation involves the incorrect storage conditions such as the wrong temperature for foods. Whether it is for hot holding hot foods, cold holding cold foods, or simply storing shelf-stable foods, the temperature of the storage area will determine the safety of food items. Foods must always be kept away from the temperature danger zone and always monitored to be within their use-by dates.

Time and temperature controls are perhaps two of the most important factors in keeping food safe in an establishment. Controlling the storage temperature will slow down the growth of harmful germs and will prolong food shelf life. 

3. Cross-contamination issues. Spotting improper use of utensils and tools such as chopping boards, lack of fridge organization, dirty food contact surfaces, and inadequate sanitation in between use of equipment all merit a violation penalty. These conditions promote the spread of disease-causing pathogens. 

The risk of cross-contamination may be prevented by applying a comprehensive cleaning schedule and training food handlers with strict food safety practices. Additionally, proper organization of ready-to-eat foods and raw ingredients such as raw seafood and raw vegetables must be applied especially in refrigerator storage.

4. Improper storage and use of chemicals. There must be always a dedicated storage area for chemicals such as cleaning solutions. They must always be separated from foods being prepared as chemicals can cause severe injuries such as burning to customers. In addition to proper storage, all chemicals used in a food establishment must be properly labeled. 

5. Inadequate cleaning and sanitizing. Cleaning and sanitizing include the conditions of contact surfaces such as food preparation tables. Inspectors also evaluate the cleanliness of floors, windows, and walls. Inadequate cleaning invites both physical and biological hazards and puts the health of consumers at risk. Unsanitary conditions increases the risk of causing foodborne illnesses.


Unsanitary conditions in a food business


In addition to food contact surfaces, proper cleaning practices such as the use of a 3-compartment sink must be seen in your food safety environment.

The best solution for ensuring that food safety violations are always controlled is to establish a comprehensive food safety management system (FSMS). The FSMS ensures that monitoring procedures are set in place and that potential violations are kept at a minimum. To level up your food safety solution, use our digital Food Safety Management System at FoodDocs.

Our digital solution includes automatically generated food safety monitoring logs that are equipped with an auto-fill feature to improve the accuracy of your recordkeeping procedures. Additionally, our system features a notification system that sends alerts to food handlers and reminds them of important food safety tasks.


What is the health code violations list?

Most health code violation lists are derived from the FDA Food Code which is reviewed and updated every two years. Every state in the US uses this document as a guide and crafts its own versions of food safety guidelines that fit its norms and practices.

Here is a health code violations list under the FDA Food Code:

  • Lack of food handlers card/ permit
  • Inadequate food temperature
  • Improper food storage
  • Improper use of gloves
  • Inadequate personal protective equipment
  • Sick food workers operating in food service establishments
  • Inadequate pest control management
  • Lack of a food safety certified personnel during operation
  • Dirty toilet facilities
  • Inadequate waste management plan

In addition to establishing a comprehensive food safety management system, food employees must be trained on how to monitor and address potentially hazardous conditions. Food safety violations are commonly a result of negligence or lack of knowledge and appreciation of food safety. Use a health inspection checklist to ensure that you covered all potentially hazardous areas that an inspector will surely cover.


Effects of health code violations for restaurants 

Health code violations do not only mean just plain penalties. There may be other underlying consequences when violations are applied to a restaurant. When customers hear about it, health violations may impact the reputation of your restaurant.

When given violation notices, your food establishment may suffer from the following:

  • Loss of customer confidence
  • Profit loss
  • Lawsuits
  • Loss of food service personnel morale

To prevent these consequences from affecting your food business, your team needs to stay on top of your food safety approach. You need to learn all potential food safety violations and incorporate ways how to address them in your everyday operations effectively.

To help you prepare for an inspection, you can find state-specific food service codes here.

What should be done following health violations from an inspection?

Following an inspection, the health inspector is expected to provide a report on any findings regarding your food safety operations. The food inspection report will highlight the strengths and weaknesses of your food safety system. Included in this report is an explanation of any violations they may have found.

In case a priority and priority foundation violations (considered critical) were observed, you will be given a 5-day notice. During this time, you are required to address and correct all critical violations listed in the report and your team must be prepared for a followup inspection. 
During the reinspection, your team must record all corrective actions that you may have applied. The documentation will serve as initial proof for the inspectors, which they will validate on-site. A similar process is required for violations under the core category or non-critical violations. The only difference is that you would have at least 14 to 45 business days to correct core violations depending on the particular violation you incurred.
In some cases, fines are appointed to food businesses for critical violations. Failure to apply the recommendations from the food inspector, especially for serious violations, may potentially warrant a lawsuit, suspension of working license, or permanent closure.


dirty dishes in food business


Health code violations fines

To protect consumers and speed up the process of correcting violations, federal agencies such as the FDA practice enforcement actions. The appropriate sanction will depend on the severity and type of the violation. Enforcement actions can range from the following list:

  • Warning letter
  • Seizure
  • Injunction
  • Criminal prosecution

As established by the FDA, violation fines may be collected from non-compliant food establishments. The penalty schedule published by the food safety agency records a range of $50 to $2000 fines depending on the category and penalty condition. 

In case of misdemeanor, The Criminal Fine Enforcement act of 1994 may take effect and charge offenders anywhere between $100,000 to $500,000. Categories for appropriate fines depend on whether the offender is an individual or a corporation, and whether the criminal violation resulted in death or felony or not.


How to avoid common health code violations?

Food establishments such as restaurants and retail food operations are responsible for developing a comprehensive approach to food safety. The health of customers must come first followed by the quality of your food items. Food handlers must be knowledgeable about proper food hygiene and other food handling practices. In addition, these practices must be consistently monitored every day.

With FoodDocs, you can set up a comprehensive digital Food Safety Management System in just a matter of minutes. When you use our AI-powered solution, you can get the following features:

  • Cooking temperature monitoring logs. This and other monitoring logs are automatically generated based on your food safety operations. You can use these smart logs to monitor internal temperature cooking to ensure that every food product you serve is safe. Our digital monitoring logs are equipped with an auto-fill feature that prefills the forms based on previously inserted data. This feature can help you improve accuracy in monitoring temperature and save time.

  • Hot holding and fridge temperature logs. To help you avoid violations on time and temperature control storage, you can use this automatically generated monitoring log. You can even pair this log with our smart notification feature which sends alerts to food handlers that will remind them when to take the temperature or if a highly-perishable food is almost at its use-by date.

  • Cleaning and sanitation checklist. To help you ensure that all cleaning and sanitation activities are properly and timely performed, we provide you with a restaurant cleaning checklist that contains the most important cleaning activities. 

Sanitation checklist FoodDocs

Sanitation and cleaning checklist from FoodDocs


In addition to these features, we can also help you as a food manager with the following:

  • Real-time dashboard. You can use this feature to save at least 20% of your time from supervising every food safety task. This dashboard will give you an overview of your food safety status, which you can use to identify areas for improvement.

  • Cloud storage. Store all of your digital documents in a single place where you can easily access everything. You can use this feature to store all certifications, licenses, and permits for easier access and presentation to your food safety inspector.

The whole process of digitizing your food safety management system does not have to be very hard. Our system makes it very easy that it will only take you 15 minutes to answer a few questions, and our system will take care of the rest. Using a machine learning program, our system will automatically generate a digital FSMS built based on your operations.

Using our digital solution, you can easily maintain compliance and ace every food safety inspection. If you are due for a health code inspection soon, you can try our services using our free, 14-day trial to help you pass the evaluation. Ensure food safety compliance and avoid heath violation by using our food safety monitoring system. 



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