Preparing for a Restaurant Health Inspection in 8 Steps

preparing for restaurant health inspection

According to the Canadian Government 1 in 8 people (4 million Canadians) get sick each year from contaminated food. Although it may be easy to say “ that will never happen to me” the numbers show that foodborne illnesses happen a little too often for comfort. 

The job of a restaurant inspector is to minimize the risk of foodborne illnesses by analyzing all parts of the restaurant to make sure they are being maintained up to standard.  

Your restaurant’s cleanliness will not only impact your inspector’s review, but it will impact your restaurant’s image and ultimately your guests’ experience; if you slack on sustaining a clean place, it will be harder to retain customers. 

The best way you can prepare for a restaurant inspection is to follow and maintain proper procedures 356 days a year – so when the day of your inspection comes, it can be treated as any other typical day. 


1. Comply with Federal Regulations

Before your inspection begins, ensure that you are complying with federal food safety regulations. This will be the first step for keeping yourself in the clear with your restaurant inspector.  

Federal regulations include the following: 

Food and Drugs Act (FDA)

The FDA allows Canadians the right to make informed decisions regarding their food consumption. It ensures honest and accurate food labeling by requiring industries to comply with mandatory regulations on advertising claims and food labeling. All health and nutrition claims need to be scientifically verified. 

Health Canada, The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) are three federal government departments that contribute to the enforcement, and development of policies stemming from the FDA. 

Safe Food for Canadians Act

The Safe Food for Canada Act is responsible for implementing food-related regulations on traceability, licensing, and preventative controls. 

  • Licensing: The SFCR license is a requirement for food businesses that do manufacturing, processing, treating, preserving, grading, packaging, and labeling.
  • Traceability: If you are exporting, importing, or selling food within two or more provinces you might be required to trace your steps.
  • Preventative Controls: Some restaurants and other food businesses need to create and maintain a preventative control plan (PCP) that demonstrates how hazards to food will be addressed in the case of a risky scenario. 


2. Comply with Provincial Regulations

Foodservice and restaurant inspections are completed by either provincial governments, municipalities, or regional health authorities. This means that each province will have its own set of requirements when it comes to safety inspections. Look up the regional authorities in your specific province to ensure that you are prepared for your inspection.  

Additionally, there are different requirements surrounding the Food Handler Certification depending on which province your food business is in. The health inspector will perform his inspection based on the Food Handler Certification requirements according to your area’s regulations.  

As a safety precaution and a good general recommendation is that all employees, supervisors, and managers who handle food complete a Food Handler Certification course. 


3. Personal and Employee Hygiene

Although hygiene is a simple rule to follow, it can often be swept under the rug or forgotten about when the restaurant gets busy. This is not always done intentionally, however it is crucial that strong hygiene practices are implemented no matter the scenario. 

Ensuring that you and all personnel working at your restaurant maintain proper hygiene will be the easiest way to prevent germs and bacteria from spreading, therefore leaving you with a successful inspection. 

Ways to ensure proper hygiene include: 

  • Hand washing stations that are well equipped with soap, water, paper towels, and signage that encourages staff to wash their hands as frequently as possible. Some examples of when people need to wash their hands are:

                                            -After handling raw food 

                                            -Before meal prepping 

                                            -After meal prepping 

                                            -Before serving food 

                                            -After sneezing, coughing or touching something unsanitary

                                            -Before handling clean equipment

  • The usage of gloves when needed. 
  • Clean work attire 
  • Limited amounts of jewelry, nail polish and fake nails to prevent anything from falling off and getting into the food. 
  • Encouraging employees to stay home when sick. 
  • The use of hair restraints such as hair ties, hats, and hair nets. 


4. Temperature Control

The health inspector will be checking that your restaurant is serving, storing, and preparing food at the right temperature.  Disease-causing pathogens and microbes can grow quickly – doubling every few minutes– so it’s important to store and prepare food at a temperature that makes it difficult for these pathogens to survive. 

As you probably already know, different foods will have different requirements in terms of storage and preparation. For a basic example; make sure you are cooking meats thoroughly (like chicken) and ensure that foods that are meant to be eaten cold are not kept out of the fridge for extended periods of time (like cocktail shrimp). 

As a general maintenance check, monitor your fridge temperatures to be certain that it is working properly and all your food is being stored at the correct temperature. 

Additionally, keep sheets and/or signs available for your staff containing information about the precise temperatures that all the food offered at your restaurant needs to be stored and prepared at. This will be especially useful if you have any new team members joining your establishment. 


5. Storage of Utensils and Food 

Improper storage is a leading cause of cross-contamination. For example; Andy the chef is using a knife to cut a cake that contains traces of peanuts. He then puts the knife down on the counter and Ryan (a different chef) assumes that the knife is clean, so he uses it to chop up a steak. Unfortunately, the person who is eating the steak is allergic to peanuts and has an allergic reaction because the knife used to cut his steak still had traces of peanuts. If Andy had stored the knife away properly with all the other dirty dishes, this situation could have been avoided. 

This may be an extreme example, but it’s all too real. Especially when a restaurant gets busy, it’s easy for a staff member to put a utensil down – not storing it properly – and then another staff member picks up that same utensil, not knowing it is contaminated. 

Additionally, food can also be contaminated by other foods. For example, if raw chicken is being stored right next to vegetables this can cause salmonella contamination.

Cross-contamination creates an opportunity for a high-risk event to occur. The best way to avoid cross-contamination is to simply implement strict storage practices. 

Some best practices you can implement are as follows:

  • Once a utensil gets used, make sure to put it in the dishwasher or sink right away (and not leave it on the counter)
  • Keep all clean utensils separately from the contaminated ones 
  • Correctly label and seal all food before they are placed on shelves.
  • Store high-risk food (like raw meat and fish) on lower shelves underneath the ready-to-eat foods (as this will avoid cross-contamination if anything leaks). 
  • If counter space is contaminated by a high-risk food item, ensure to sterilize that area before placing other foods on that same countertop. 


Chemical Storage

Proper storage does not only apply to kitchen utensils and food, it also applies to chemicals. No customer wants to see a sanitizing rag right next to their freshly cooked linguine alfredo. Or a bucket of bleach sitting beside a basket of bread. 

Chemicals are an important part of maintaining a clean restaurant, but they can not be kept laying around. If any small trace of cleaning chemicals unknowingly gets into food this can quickly become a dangerous situation. 

In order to ensure maximum safety: 

  • Clearly label all of your chemicals to ensure the correct chemicals are being used on the appropriate surface. For example, you wouldn’t want to accidentally use bleach as a table cleaner. 
  • Store all your chemicals away from any food 
  • Always read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure you are using the chemicals correctly. 


6. Equipment Maintenance

Degrading equipment not only leads to a less satisfying customer experience, but to a potentially harmful situation. Your restaurant inspector will be checking the quality of your equipment to ensure that it is being maintained properly. 

Restaurant inspections include: 

  • Checking that food contact surfaces do not have rough patches or cracks for bacteria to seep into. 
  • Checking that all electric appliances are running properly 
  • Ensuring that all equipment is being cleaned properly on a regular basis. This also includes utensils being washed in a dishwasher, or in a two- or three-sink method. 


7. Building Maintenance

Restaurant health inspections will look at all areas of the building, not only the kitchen. Of course, the kitchen is a very important part of the inspection, but other areas of your restaurant can have just as big an impact on your guests’ health and safety. 

When preparing for your inspection, don’t neglect spaces such as the dining room, bathrooms, front of the house, staff room, change room, storage spaces, offices, etc. 

The procedure for ensuring good building maintenance includes: 

  • Checking the floors – making sure there are no raised or wet surfaces so guests or staff don’t trip and fall 
  • Making sure all rooms have proper ventilation
  • Keeping all bathrooms stocked with a garbage can, hot and cold water, soap in a dispenser, paper towels, and toilet paper. Also checking that the toilets are working properly  
  • Following regional building codes, including appropriate lighting and ensuring no mold or mildew is growing. 
  • Generally checking that all surfaces are clean and in good condition, such as dining room tables, chairs, counters, lamps (as they get dusty), etc. 


Waste and Pest Management

Restaurants need to deal with a lot more waste than clothing retail stores or other typical businesses. That is because restaurants go through supplies at a much quicker rate, such as cleaning supplies, packaging from food items, food waste, and more. It is therefore especially crucial for a restaurant business owner to know how to manage waste in order to prevent odors, pests, and harmful bacteria from spreading. 

Improper waste management will not only be detrimental to your inspection, but to your business. If you don’t deal with waste properly, certain areas can become breeding grounds for pests that will make their way into contaminating the food. And since these infestations are expensive and time-consuming to perform, it’s a better idea to prevent them before it happens. 

Waste management best practices include: 

  • All trash containers (especially the ones in the dining room and kitchen) are sealed with lids to avoid odors.
  • Trash containers from the dining room and kitchen are cleared out every day and more often if necessary. Basically, if the trash is overflowing, then it’s time to remove it.
  • If possible, try to only use the dining room trash cans for paper – avoiding putting any food waste in there. This will of course depend on the nature of your restaurant. 
  • Have separate containers for trash, recycling, and food waste 
  • Regularly change out the bags from the trash containers 
  • Regularly clean out trash containers (since there is sometimes leakage and dirt that builds up at the bottom) 
  • Ensure that you have a designated spot in the building to store all the trash bags from your restaurant. This way you will avoid bags of trash laying around in random spots around the restaurant. 
  • Ensure that waste containers are non-absorbent, leak-proof, pest-proof, and tightly sealed. 
  • Regularly check for pest dropping and small bites or wholes

Additionally, if you want to reduce the amount of food waste from your restaurant, you can always donate leftovers that you long have use for. 


8. Ensure Staff are Up to Date and Set an Example

It may be difficult for staff to remember all the specific details that go into keeping a restaurant up to standard. That’s why it’s important to keep your team up to date on protocols and ensure they understand the risks associated with poor health and safety maintenance. 

Of course, it’s understandable that you don’t want to nag your employees, so when you remind them of protocols it’s best to do so in a friendly yet authoritative manner. Establishing a good relationship with your staff from the beginning will make it easier to approach them later on if you have any concerns. You can also post signs around the kitchen with health and safety procedures – that way staff can quickly refer to the signs in case they get confused (this will be especially helpful for the newer employees). 

It is also crucial that you set an example for your team. If they see you breaking any of the rules (even a small one) this will lead them to believe that this behavior is acceptable. 

Additionally, if you see that certain team members are doing a good job of maintaining protocols, be sure to verbally recognize their behavior and let them know you appreciate their work. Everyone likes knowing their efforts are being acknowledged. 

If you stay vigilant throughout the year, once your health inspection rolls around, you will pass through it with flying colours. 

If you have any more queries about running your business, the Mary Browns blog will be your ultimate guide for opening and operating a restaurant or franchise.