Sponsored by Orkin
The best way to receive a high score and pass a health inspection is to be prepared long before an inspector shows up in the dining room for a surprise visit, industry professionals advise.
Operators need to strive for a culture in their restaurants where cleanliness and food safety are everyday habits, says Dr. Ron Harrison, technical services director for Orkin, the Atlanta-based pest control company.
Training and standardized practices to help keep food safe and a facility clean and pest-free are critical in order to achieve high inspection scores, says Karen Gulley, county manager of the Center for Environmental Health at Cobb & Douglas Public Health in Marietta, Georgia. When employees keep a restaurant and its kitchen clean as a part of their daily routine tasks, a restaurant is more likely to get consistent, positive inspection reports and to keep the environment pest-free.
Also, think of the health inspector as a resource rather than an adversary, says Harrison.
“Restaurant operators should feel excited that the inspector is there, and they should be proud to show off the measures they are taking,” he says.
Gulley and Harrison outline some of the top issues restaurants need to have a handle on before a health inspection.
Beware of the most common violations
Gulley says her district found these most common violations in its last assessment of reports:
- Improper cold holding of TCS foods — temperature/time control for safety — especially within the top storage area of a prep unit. TCS foods require time and temperature controls to prevent growth of microorganisms and the production of toxins.
- Failure to clean and sanitize food contact surfaces.
- Failure to protect food from contamination.
- Improper storage and use of wiping cloths.
- Inadequately supplied hand wash stations.
Get the spot out
Hand washing is a critical yet fundamental skill operators must practice, Gulley says. But often employees are not doing it correctly. To demonstrate how to effectively wash hands, Gulley will ask someone to mark their hand with a ballpoint pen, and then wash with soap and warm water, rubbing their hands vigorously enough to remove the mark.
“We’ve been washing our hands since we were toddlers, however, that doesn't mean that we’ve been doing it the right way,” she says.
Keep it hot, keep it cold
Proper planning is important when considering the need to keep food at the appropriate temperature. Gulley suggests keeping the following in mind:
- Ensure that all refrigeration and other equipment is plugged in and maintaining the correct temperature prior to storing food.
- Be in the habit of taking food out of storage only when ready to begin preparing it.
- Train staff on how to monitor equipment, how to calibrate thermometers on a regular schedule and what to do if a thermometer is accidentally dropped.
- Verify temperatures achieved during the cooling of TCS foods.
- Minimize opening and closing refrigerators during busy periods.
- Don’t wait for an inspector to verify holding unit temperatures. Check them throughout the day.
Another aspect of preparedness is to establish good relationships with public health inspectors, Harrison says.
Operators can seek out local inspectors ahead of time and ask for a pre-audit or training for their staff. Owners and managers also should work with pest control technicians before there is a problem – a proactive approach with a strong partnership pays off far more than a reactive approach.
“The last thing you want is for someone to get sick,” Harrison says. “Health inspections are designed to help restaurants.”
Strive to avoid attracting pests into the restaurant, Harrison says.
Attractions can include trash cans and dumpsters located too close to doors and windows, or plants and other bug-attracting foliage adjacent to the building.
“House flies can smell a food source whether from a garbage can or food that’s sitting out,” Harrison says. Rodents can, too.
When choosing or designing a new building, be aware of surrounding businesses, wind patterns and even the choice of paint color. Insects prefer lighter colors, so pick darker colors over light yellow, whites and tans. LED lights are also less attractive to pests than incandescent or fluorescent lights.
Bar the door
Do not allow pests to come in with food deliveries, Harrison says. Inspect deliveries while they are still on the truck, making sure there are no flies, rodents or roaches. And be sure to take food out of cardboard boxes before storing them. Roaches can survive on box glue.
Make sure the building is sealed up tight, cracks are caulked and doors have sweeps. If sharing a building with another restaurant, make certain there are no holes in the walls, and caulk common utility and electrical wires. You could also partner with your pest technician to work on keeping your building well sealed.
Be a role model
One of the best ways to establish an environment and concern for cleanliness is for owners and managers to demonstrate what it means to follow food safety best practices, say both Gulley and Harrison.
“You want to create a culture of cleanliness. If someone spills something, whether an employee or a guest, clean it up quickly; deal with it quickly,” Harrison says.
Employees should see operators washing their hands and exhibiting good food safety practices.
“Actions speak louder than words,” Gulley says.