How popular do you think an App would be that included a list of Health Inspectors’ favorite restaurants? As far as we know, no such App exists. At least not yet. But if there were, would your restaurant make the list? Have you ever wondered, “What do Health Inspectors look for when selecting a place to eat?” This is such an interesting question considering they visit thousands of restaurants every year. What is the lowest standard rating for them? What would turn them away or better yet, what keeps them coming back?
It turns out they are not much different than you or me. Health Inspectors select their restaurants based mostly on the quality of food and the level of service and not so much on the ratings. For most, the initial process of selecting a place to eat is the same as everyone else. They ask around about a place they are considering and see what others have heard about it. The process for a Health Inspector only differs upon entering a restaurant. They are on the lookout for things that perhaps an average customer wouldn’t notice. “If management doesn’t care about areas that customers see, then they care even less about the areas customers don’t see. And they probably don’t care at all about safe food practices,” remarked a New Jersey Registered Environmental Health Inspector with over 15 years of field experience.
We asked several Health Inspectors what they look for when choosing a restaurant, and here’s what they had to share.
1. Clean Restrooms
Restroom cleanliness was by far a popular factor when deciding on a restaurant. Most Health Inspector’s agreed that restroom cleanliness is an indication of the hygiene standard of the restaurant and its staff, kitchen and food prep areas. “I always visit the restroom to wash my hands before eating. If there is no soap, hot water or paper towels in the restroom, that’s a deal breaker for me.”
2. Proper Food Temperatures
Hot food should be hot. Cold food should be cold. NO EXCEPTIONS! Improper temperatures are one of the leading causes of foodborne illnesses; they provide bacteria the ideal conditions for rapid growth, compromising food safety. It starts with the way food is stored: proper food storage containers and lids eliminate a point of cross contamination while helping to keep foods at proper temperature until ready for service.
3. ServSafe or Official Food Safety Training Certification Visible Upon Entry
“The first thing I look for is a Food Manager certificate from an FDA-approved training organization somewhere in the lobby area.” Proper training on food safety handling is crucial in avoiding food poisoning and spread of viruses. The ServSafe Food Protection Manager Certification process is accredited by the American National Standards Institute’s Conference for food protection as valid, dependable and legally defensible. Check out www.servsafe.com.
4. Freshness of Food
All food should be of satisfactory quality, including being at the right temperature and fresh when it’s served. You should always bring up the issue within the restaurant and ask it to replace the dish. What happens too often is foodservice operators are not rotating their food properly or not storing it in properly sealed containers. This leads to food becoming stale, not fresh and not what you what you paid for. This is why it’s so important that food is properly labeled when received, during prep and storage.
5. Cleaning Products Stored Away from Food
“A huge red flag is raised anytime cleaning products are near food. This would be enough for me to complain to a manager on the spot—this is plain carelessness.” If food is stored near chemicals or cleaning supplies, contamination can occur and someone can become very ill.
6. FDA Approved Food Storage Containers
When using non-food grade plastics to store foods, highly acidic foods like tomatoes or fats may leech plastic additives from the packaging or container into the food. Be sure to select only FDA-approved plastic food containers.
7. Clean Restaurant, Floors and Walls and Outside Premises
“When it comes to eating in the same city I inspect, my decision is based on cleanliness. If the restaurant looks dirty, disorganized or smells unsanitary, I assume the kitchen is in a similar condition.”
8. Hand Washing Stations
Hand hygiene plays a key role in serving safe food. “I look for hand washing stations in the kitchen; if these are conveniently located in the kitchen it will make it easier for staff to regularly wash their hands.” Health inspectors want to see that employees are washing their hands after handling dirty dishes, utensils, money and before handling food and drinks.
9. Condiment Station (Clean, well-stocked and organized)
Condiment stations should be clean and organized and covered to decrease cross contamination and protect the food. “Certain condiments can’t be held at room temperature. For things like topping, or condiment service in the summer heat, properly insulated condiment stations or insulated containers with lids should be used.”
10. Clean Dishes, Glasses and Silverware
While the dining area may look spotless, you never know what’s lurking in the kitchen or what their sanitation processes are. That awful discovery of that one random spoon or fork with gunk on it that you didn’t know how it wasn’t clean. Clean utensils ranked as important as restaurant cleanliness. “I want to know that my dishes, glasses and silverware are clean. I mean after all, I am eating the food off of those plates and with that fork.”
In addition to the Top 10 Health Inspector’s look for, below are some additional hot spots to make sure you make the list:
- Grading System
- Clean Menu’s and Uniforms
- Gloves and Hair Nets
If you still have doubt if your restaurant would make the list and if you want to make your Health Inspector into a regular visit StoreSafe and request a Free Consultation on proper food safety practices. www.cambro.com/storesafe