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How to Prepare for a Restaurant Health Inspection [Checklist + Resources]

Health inspections are crucial in the food industry for many reasons. As part of that industry, your restaurant must follow sanitation and food safety standards, boosting its reputation and instilling customer confidence. Meeting health standards also allows your restaurant to continue operations, while failure can lead to fines, litigation, and even closure.

That said, it’s crucial to always prepare for random health inspections. Fortunately, you don’t have to face the process alone. Use the restaurant health inspection checklist below to train your restaurant staff for evaluations and ensure your food service business survives and thrives year after year.


5 Types of Health Inspections
Restaurants typically undergo many health inspections to pass health and food safety standards. Here are the main ones you should expect as you run your food service business.

  1. Pre-operational

    A pre-operational health inspection ensures you follow health code rules before opening a new restaurant. It evaluates whether you have the necessary facilities like hot and cold running water and gas and electric utilities. Additionally, inspectors typically confirm that no food is present on-site during this inspection phase.

    Typically, fines do not apply during this phase, but you must address all violations before the next inspection.

  2. Routine
    A routine health inspection is an unannounced and periodic assessment conducted as part of an ongoing regulatory scheme regarding your restaurant’s risk category. Routine inspections ensure you consistently comply with health and safety standards.
  3. Follow-up
    You’ll likely undergo a follow-up inspection if you fail to comply with a rule during a routine examination. The schedule varies from state to state, but in California, you can expect a follow-up inspection within 30 days after the previous one.
  4. Complaint
    The Health Department will inspect your restaurant if they receive complaints about it. Health inspectors investigate and assess the validity of the reported issues and take appropriate actions to ensure compliance with health and safety regulations. They also closely coordinate with your restaurant’s manager during the inspection
  5. License renewal
    You must undergo a license renewal health inspection whenever you need to renew your business license. It ensures you consistently meet food preparation guidelines and service health and safety standards. When you pass this inspection, you can renew your business license and resume operations within the established guidelines.

Health Inspection Checklist

Here are some essential items to focus on to help you pass inspections and run a reliable food service business.

  • Personal dress and hygiene

    Your employees’ hygiene directly impacts everyone’s safety and well-being. As such, they must follow rigorous health and sanitation practices.

    First, ensure they wear proper uniforms and hair restraints to minimize the risk of contamination. They should also be healthy and free from infectious diseases to limit others’ exposure. Moreover, your employees should know the best practices in preventing the spread of illnesses by briefing them on protocols for coughing and sneezing and proper handwashing.

    Designate areas in your restaurant where the staff can eat, drink, or smoke to maintain personal hygiene. You must also separate food preparation and service areas to ensure food integrity.

  • Food storage

    Proper restaurant storage maintains food freshness, quality, and safety while minimizing contamination risks and upholding food safety regulations.

    For example, the Health Department recommends storing food between 50º F and 70º F for dry and canned goods. You could use proper refrigeration equipment like those from Charlie’s Fixtures to keep all ingredients with specific storage requirements.

    Then, keep containers 6 to 8 inches off the ground and label them with their name and delivery date for easy identification. Clear labeling also ensures your employees practice the First In, First Out (FIFO) method, which prioritizes using or selling older items to minimize waste and prevent consuming expired or deteriorated products.

  • Large equipment

    Large kitchen equipment such as meat slicers, mixers, and food processors play a big role in running a restaurant. As such, you must keep them clean and functional all the time.

    For instance, sanitize food slicers between uses to prevent the buildup of food soils and disease-causing microorganisms, which can lead to foodborne illness outbreaks. Clean exhaust hoods and filters to avoid fire hazards and maintain good air quality in the kitchen.

    Meanwhile, refrigeration equipment must have appropriate temperature settings by ensuring the thermometers are accurate and placing food in proper storage to prevent spoilage.

  • Food handling

    Even if you store and preserve ingredients correctly, the method of handling them can still affect the quality. For instance, unsanitary practices can cause contamination and foodborne illnesses. As such, use the proper handling, defrosting, and sanitizing methods when moving and using ingredients.

    Thawing food on the counter or in hot water is a red flag, pushing meat into the temperature danger zone where bacteria can multiply. As such, you should only thaw food under refrigeration or in cold running water. Using kitchen utensils or gloves when moving raw or cooked food from containers to plates is also a must.

    When tasting food, use clean spoons and forks to prevent cross-contamination. Lastly, use new towels for drying hands and cleaning utensils and floors to reduce the spread of germs and bacteria. You can only reuse towels to wipe food contact surfaces and equipment as long as you clean them with a chemical sanitizer solution after and before every use.

  • Small utensils and equipment

    Even smaller items in your kitchen, such as knives, cutting boards, blenders, and microwaves, require proper cleaning and organization. Ensure they’re thoroughly clean to raise no alarm to the health inspector.

    Regarding storage, you should also invert, cover, and protect these tools from dust or contamination. Sanitizing them and the work surfaces between uses is also a great practice to ensure they’re in tip-top shape, even during surprise inspections.

  • Hot holding

    Hot holding involves maintaining cooked food at a safe temperature before serving it to limit the growth of disease-causing bacteria. Keep in mind that a hot holding unit is not for cooking or reheating food; that is why you should cook food to a minimum of 165º F.

    Once inside a hot-holding unit, the food’s temperature should be above 140º F to kill or limit the growth of disease-causing organisms. Also, ensure all hot-holding units are clean and sanitized between uses.

  • Cleaning and sanitizing

    Proper cleaning and sanitization practices are essential in maintaining a safe and hygienic restaurant.

    First, set up and use a three-compartment sink to clean utensils and equipment effectively. Use a chlorine test kit or thermometer to verify the effectiveness of your sanitization process. You should also regularly monitor water temperatures to ensure compliance with health regulations.

    Second, thoroughly clean, rinse, and dry utensils to ensure they’re safe and free from harmful bacteria. Sanitize surfaces and floors to remove dirt, grime, and potential contaminants. Remember to use water that’s clean and free of grease and food particles to avoid cross-contamination.

  • Garbage storage and disposal

    Garbage storage and disposal play a significant role in maintaining a clean and hygienic restaurant. It can also affect the result of your health inspections.

    To prevent odors and pest infestation, you must keep kitchen garbage cans clean. You should also empty them as necessary to prevent overflow and waste accumulation.

    Remove boxes and containers from your premises to further keep your restaurant clean. Otherwise, they may attract pests and create clutter.

    Outside your restaurant, you should keep your loading dock and area clean to remove any debris, spills, or potential sources of contamination. The boxes and containers used to transport food ingredients should be disposed of properly to avoid cluttering the workspace. Lastly, always close your garbage dumpster to avoid attracting pests and creating unpleasant odors.

  • Pest control

    Pests make your restaurant unclean and affect your health inspection score. Rodents within your premises can result in business suspension or closure. As such, install screens on open windows and repair doors to prevent flies, mosquitoes, and other insects from entering your restaurant.

    Remove any signs of pests, such as droppings, gnaw marks, or nests, and implement appropriate pest control measures to keep your place clean and prepare it for a health inspection.

How to Prepare for a Restaurant Health Inspection

To pass a health inspection, you and your restaurant staff should proactively prepare for any possible issues that may arise and affect your score. Below are some tips on preparing for a restaurant health inspection

  • Study the health code

    Review and be familiar with the regulations and requirements applicable to your establishment. Use this knowledge to comply with rules and standards, and identify areas that need attention

  • Conduct self-inspections

    Regular self-inspections allow for identifying and addressing potential issues before the official health inspection. Use the checklist above to cover all aspects of your operations, including cleanliness, sanitation, food storage, employee hygiene, and equipment maintenance.

  • Catch and correct issues before the inspection

    During self-inspections, pay close attention to areas of concern or potential violations. Implement corrective measures like repairing equipment, improving cleanliness protocols, or providing additional training to staff members

  • Adhere to good food safety practices

    Teach your employees the importance of following good food safety guidelines such as handwashing, proper food storage, cooking temperatures, and cross-contamination prevention. Regularly reinforce these practices through training sessions, reminders, and ongoing monitoring to ensure consistency and compliance.

  • Brief your employees

    A well-informed and engaged staff is vital in maintaining cleanliness and adherence to food safety practices. Talk to your employees about upcoming health inspections and give them an overview of the process. Encourage open communication, and address any concerns or questions they may have.

What to Do During a Restaurant Health Inspection
On the day of a health inspection, you should approach the process with preparedness and professionalism. Below are some key actions to consider during a restaurant health inspection

  • Verify the inspector’s credentials
    Before the inspection begins, politely ask the health inspector to provide identification and confirm their credentials. This step ensures you’re dealing with a legitimate inspector. Contact your state’s Health Department if you need further verification.
  • Accompany the health inspector at all times
    During the inspection, accompany the health inspector to address their questions or concerns, provide necessary documentation or clarification, and demonstrate your commitment to maintaining a clean and compliant establishment. Never leave them unattended.
  • Correct violations on the spot
    If the health inspector identifies any violations or deficiencies, immediately address and correct them whenever possible. For instance, you can adjust your guidelines, improve cleaning practices, or implement corrective measures. Correcting violations on the spot can help you avoid or reduce penalties.
  • Ask questions
    Ask the health inspector about any uncertainties you may have about the inspection or the initial findings. Since their role is to ensure compliance, promote food safety, and provide guidance or explanations, seeking clarification helps you understand health and food safety requirements and make the necessary improvements
  • Sign the report
    Once the inspection is complete, review the health inspector’s report. An important bit of reminder here is that signing the report does not automatically mean you agree with the inspector’s findings but only signifies that an inspection occurred. If you disagree with the procedure or findings, you can contest the documentation later.

What to Do After a Restaurant Health Inspection
Undergoing a restaurant health inspection is the tip of the iceberg. You must pass it or make the necessary calls to ensure your restaurant receives the credit it deserves. Below are some vital steps to consider after a health inspection.

  • Understand health inspection scores
    Different jurisdictions may use various scoring methods, such as letter grades or numerical ratings. Understanding how the scoring system works will help you gauge the severity of any issues and identify areas for improvement.
  • Review violations and fix them
    Carefully review the inspection report for any violations or deficiencies that the health inspector identified. If there are any, assign staff members to address each documented violation and set clear timelines for correction.
  • Schedule a follow-up inspection
    If you and your staff can’t address the violations promptly, schedule a follow-up inspection with the Health Department. Use this opportunity to showcase your commitment to rectifying the violations and maintaining a safe and compliant establishment.
  • Appeal violations if you disagree
    If you think the identified violations or findings are inaccurate or unjust, you can appeal them. Follow the necessary procedures to challenge the violations and provide supporting evidence for your case.

Keep Your Restaurant in Shape

Preparing for and undergoing a health inspection can be tedious and nerve-wracking. However, you have nothing to fear if you and your restaurant staff diligently follow health and food safety protocols while providing quality food and service.

Use the restaurant health inspection checklist above to ensure compliance, uphold food safety standards, and easily navigate inspections. Then, select top-of-the-line restaurant equipment like those from Charlie’s Fixtures to modernize your food service business and help your staff perform at their best. 

Browse our catalog to equip your restaurant with high-quality, long-lasting tools and supplies. 

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