Uh Oh! It's the Food Inspector!
How to Pass Inspection with Flying Colors
Some things are inherently cringeworthy in the foodservice industry: a tray of glassware smashing on the floor; activation of the smoke detector alarm; a loud argument between inebriated customers at the bar. Are you cringing yet? How about the announcement that the food inspector has just shown up for a surprise inspection? That’s tantamount to the zombie apocalypse – unless your operation has been proactive and is prepared.
There is a lot of confusion surrounding restaurant inspections. It seems that the responsibilities and practices vary from state to state. Reinhart Inc asked Susan Quam, executive vice president of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, to make sense of it all and provide guidance on how operators can pass food inspections with flying colors. “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has made a concerted effort to standardize the inspection process to better achieve consistency across the nation,” Quam said. She added that groups such as the Conference for Food Protection, which is the biggest consortium of food industry, regulatory, academia, consumer and professional organizations, whose representatives provide input in the development and/or modification of Food Safety Guidance. Such guidance is incorporated into food safety laws and regulations at all levels of government to help ensure the overall safety of food for everyone. “In Wisconsin, all food safety inspections fall under the jurisdiction of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP),” Quam said. “In Florida, there are three difference agencies that handle the process. In general, states use the FDA Food Code, but some use the 2013 version, while others still use the 2009.” In other words, food safety standardization is a work in progress.
Jim Kaplanek is the section chief of the division of food and recreational safety for DATCP. Kaplanek has in the past been responsible for conducting food inspections in the field. Restaurant Inc asked him for his take on what inspectors see as the critical control points for food safety in a foodservice setting. “Our approach is to assess the entire flow of food as it travels through the establishment, from the moment it is received until it is served to the customer. We use a dynamic, risk-based process that will help to eliminate foodborne illness and at the same time, educate operators as well. Here in Wisconsin, our department employs 60 state inspectors, plus 60 local agents who actually live in and around the communities in which they operate. They have their fingers on the pulse of the areas they are assigned, so it’s easier for them to act as a resource.”
Kaplanek stresses that “Our approach is ‘Education first, regulation second’.” However, if an operation is deemed to present a danger to consumers’ health, it is a serious matter. In cases of non-compliance, an electronic inspection report is sent to DATCP, with a corrective action date indicated. A follow-up inspection is scheduled to verify that areas of concern have been corrected. Continual non-compliance could result in restaurant closure.
Some of the risk factors that could generate a red flag during inspections include:
- Food procured from safe sources.
- Temperature control – in food storage, preparation and holding.
- Employee hygiene and health.
- Safeguards to prevent cross-contamination.
- Cleaning and sanitizing of all food contact surfaces.
- Cleanliness of equipment and the entire ceiling-to-floor kitchen environment.
- Utilization of gloves by everyone who handles food.
- Date marking of refrigerated ready-to-eat foods.
- Raw animal foods cooked to required temperatures.
- Cooked foods reheated to required temperatures.
Every operator should maintain and review HACCP guidelines with their staff and contact their state restaurant association to establish standardized procedures to ensure proper food safety. Be proactive to protect your business and the health of your customers.